Child Development

Worried The Pandemic Is Affecting Your Kids Long-Term? Here’s What An Education Expert Says

Two years of pandemic living have taken a toll on kids in ways we are still unpacking.

by Stephanie Malia Krauss
Kids laying on the floor, one is reading a book and the other is listening to him
We Are/DigitalVision/Getty Images

The other day I connected with a friend who teaches first grade. She told me how different her first graders are this year. Some are very behind academically and developmentally. This friend is pure magic in the classroom; I’ve watched her support students through cancer, adoption, trauma, and two years of a global pandemic. Still, she told me this has been her hardest year yet. She worries about her students being so far behind.

Mom friends tell me similar stories and ask for my advice. They reach out because I get it, not only as a fellow mom but as someone who has spent over two decades in education and social work – from the classroom, to school leadership, to working on education and child development issues nationally. Things are hard for their kids, and they wonder whether something is seriously wrong.

Two years of pandemic living have taken a toll on kids in ways we are still unpacking, and I suspect will be for a while. It has created a “new normal” in child development, and we need to adjust our expectations accordingly.

We know kids are resilient. Their brains are wired to “bounce back” from many of life’s bumps and bruises, just like physical ones. But the pandemic has been a pressure cooker for problems, bringing out new ones and exacerbating existing ones.

Right now, our kids are growing up both fast and slow. Being socially distanced for an extended period has caused many of them to stay younger longer — after all, kids learn and grow by playing together, doing things, and interacting with others. Kids also “aged” faster in the past two years, especially if they faced loss, grief or trauma.

Given all this, how do you know if your kid has something serious going on, requiring extra assistance? Just think of your ABCs.

A is for Attitude. Have you noticed big changes in your child’s attitude about school, friends, family, etc? If you notice you kid suddenly doesn’t want to go to school or sports or they’re overly anxious about social situations, something could be going on.

Same if you see a sudden, dramatic swing in attitude that sticks around for more than a few days. If this happens, mention it to their teacher, counselor, or pediatrician. It could be situational, but it could also be a sign of something that needs attention and support.

B is for Behavior. Behavior is attitude’s close cousin. It’s the shift from internal feelings to external actions. Sometimes behavioral changes are kids’ ways of telling us something is wrong.

This could (emphasis on could) be the start or worsening of a mental health condition (like OCD or depression), an attention or hyperactivity issue (like ADD or ADHD), or some type of neurodivergence (like autism or Asperger Syndrome). There are also times when kids show behaviors that look like a disability or disorder, but it’s a medical issue — like a vitamin deficiency, medication change, or inflammation.

C is for Classroom Performance. Now, consider how your kid is doing in school or other activities (like sports or after school programs).

Have you seen big changes in your child’s schoolwork, or maybe no change at all? Does your child seem to really struggle or breeze through learning assignments and tasks?

Academic and program performance is a great data source to help us figure out if our kids are OK or in need of extra help and attention. If you are starting to worry, create a file folder or tracker where you can keep and record anything that points to a possible problem.

Sometimes the road to figuring out what’s going on takes time, multiple conversations, and even assessments. If you have a clear sense of what you’re seeing and concerned by, with the paperwork to back it up, the journey will be easier and maybe even faster.

If big changes in the ABCs are going on with your kid, it’s OK to worry — and better to act. Don’t try to figure out and fix everything alone. Reach out to other adults who know and care about your child and form a “care team” who can work together to figure out what your child is going through and needs.

This care team can include a combination of your kid’s teacher(s) or principal and pediatrician. For some kids, it might also include their counselors, occupational or physical therapists, or other trusted adults. If your child already has a “care team” of some type, call on them, and consider who else needs to be added into the conversation.

We must accept that our kids missed out on learning and developmental opportunities during the pandemic, and that that may have had a negative — but repairable — impact on their learning and development. We don’t have to accept our child’s suffering, struggling, or falling farther behind. You know your child best and you are their very best advocate. Your child will be better off for it, and you’ll be a better parent because of it.

Stephanie Malia Krauss is a mom, educator, and social worker. She is the founder of First Quarter Strategies and the author of Making It: What Today’s Kids Need for Tomorrow’s World. Her next book, Whole Child, Whole Life: 10 Ways to Help Kids Learn, Live, and Thrive will be released in 2023.