Betsy Gard, Ph.D.
In April 2020, schools were suspended in 188 countries and over 2.5 billon young people worldwide were not in school. As of February 2021, school systems are reopening, but with tremendous variability in policies. Almost all children and youth have missed at least 25% of teacher-led instruction. Some children are actually “missing” and have rarely attended virtually. This is more common in those who come from disadvantaged environments or have special learning needs. These youngsters will need to be reconnected to their school system. In addition, children have missed being in a social structure, have not been monitored for academic progress, and in many situations, may not be receiving adequate nutrition, sleep, or exercise. They also may not be receiving services such as speech, physical, occupational therapy, or educational assistance as specified in their Individualized Education Plans (IEPs).
Although returning to school may be a relief for many children and their families, the impact of the stressors families and children have experienced over the duration of COVID may be exacerbated, for some, by returning to school. Stress affects physiological, psychological and behavioral reactions but can vary by child. It is common that parents and teachers may be distressed by the child’s externalizing behaviors- irritability, oppositionality, anger outbursts, talking back, quarreling with siblings, or unwillingness to cooperate in the family. They may not realize that these behaviors may be due to their child’s fear, anxiety or depression.