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The unknown impact of COVID on child development

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As we near what is proving to be another quiet, yet highly eventful Christmas, I find myself looking back on the past couple of years. The COVID pandemic has been going on for so long now I find myself wondering what impact it is having on this generation’s child development.

Life on pause and child development.
Life’s been on pause and what will the long term impact be on child development?

There have been various little things I have noticed during the pandemic and lockdowns. Two issues in particular stand out: Developing independence and developing confidence. Elements of life that help children achieve certain milestones have been on perpetual pause and this can’t be doing them any good.

Allow me to give you a couple of examples to demonstrate what I mean. The first one is the fact Izzy, my youngest daughter, was able to go on a residential school trip early in this school year. Almost three months later, she still talks about that trip.

It wasn’t the first time she had stayed away from home, but it was the first time she had stayed with such a large group and had to be so independent. I think it did a huge amount to help her develop independence and learn how to get along with people.

My eldest daughter, well she was supposed to go on a residential school trip when she was in Year 6.  Coronavirus stomped all over those plans. She’s now in her second year of high school (yes, COVID has been with us that long) and a residential school trip is something she has still never experienced.

If I think back to when I was Helen’s age, I had been on at least one residential school trip and several scout camps. I think it did a lot to help me learn how to get on with people and become independent.

I should add that I was quite surprised Izzy’s residential went ahead. Then again, at that time the Delta variant hadn’t really taken hold and Omicron was still no more than a letter in the Greek alphabet. Ironically, no one on the trip caught COVID but back at home, everyone within a 10-mile radius was having to boil the tap water because of an e-coli contamination scare!

When it comes to confidence, I find myself wondering if the lack of opportunities for youngsters to put themselves in front of an audience is impacting their ability to build their confidence. Sports events, plays, Nativities, musical performances, carol concerts and so on have been few and far between.

Prior to COVID, there was always an annual (and rather daft) debate about whether school sports day should be banned. I’ve always been a big supporter, not so much because it benefits the sportier kids, but because those kids who don’t do so well have to learn resilience and how to bounce back from failure. In school they can be supported and helped if they don’t succeed in something. Before March 2020, there were lots of opportunities for youngsters to learn how to deal with failure and it was managed at school (or the local sports club or cub scout pack or wherever). Failure is simply a part of life and we all have to learn to cope with it and overcome it and yet there have been fewer options for youngsters to learn these skills.

COVID hasn’t simply stopped sports day from going ahead, it’s stolen all those opportunities from our kids. Not only can they not build their confidence by celebrating their successes, but they can’t learn from their failures either.

I’ll tell you another story. My kids recently took part in a gymnastics display. Helen, the older of the two, wasn’t particularly phased by this. Izzy, meanwhile, wasn’t all that keen to participate. This came as quite a surprise as she always used to be very confident with no qualms about performing in front of large groups.

Izzy did eventually agree to take part and I don’t mind admitting I felt very emotional while watching the display. It was the first time in two years the kids had been able to take part in anything like it and they both got such a lot out of it. Izzy, despite her initial reservations, performed well, enjoyed herself and is now talking about taking part in an upcoming gymnastics competition.

It’s hard to know if Izzy was nervous beforehand simply because she’s getting older and is more self-aware about making mistakes in front of other people. It could be that, or the lack of opportunities to take part in such events means she hasn’t been able to build up the confidence she otherwise would have done. I don’t know what the answer is, but the fact her attitude changed after the performance says a lot.

As parents I don’t quite know what we do to mitigate these lost opportunities. Sadly, COVID is clearly here to stay for some time yet and more opportunities will clearly be lost and there has to be an impact on child development.

At the start of the pandemic I was quite bullish about all this. If there was one silver lining to come out of this pandemic, it’s that our youngsters could learn all sorts of practical skills and learn various interpersonal skills after being cooped up with the same people during the lockdowns. I’m not sure any of us envisioned this going on long enough to pose a risk to child development.

I maintain that this generation of children is receiving a fascinating upbringing and it isn’t all negative. Yet as we near the second anniversary of the first lockdown and there’s talk of another one immediately after Christmas, I find myself getting seriously concerned about all the opportunities for personal development our kids are missing and what this means for their long term future.

2 thoughts on “The unknown impact of COVID on child development”

  1. Yeah, it really is impacting on them in ways we don’t even know yet, John. My lad is supposed to be going to Paris in the new year on the school trip he was denied last year, and the excitement a normally too cool for, eh, school boy has expressed is so poignant, really. Hope it goes ahead!!!

  2. It’s a shame really. But what can you do. Especially at the peak of COVID.

    I have to agree, COVID has had a massive impact on children in many ways. Maybe if we handled it differently, the outcome would be different.

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