Will kids "bounce back" after the pandemic? Our experts weigh in
How can we help kids “bounce back” after the pandemic? What can we do to make up for losses in learning, socialization, and growth? How might the one in five children in the U.S. who learn and think differently be affected?
We asked four of our Understood experts to weigh in on the topic of resilience in kids. Here, they share their views — and offer some new ways of thinking about these questions.
Ellen Braaten, PhD, director of the Learning & Emotional Assessment Program (LEAP) at Massachusetts General Hospital
Resilience is often described as “bouncing back” with energy. In reality, it’s more like a repotted plant, slowly finding what it needs in the soil while growing courageously into something more.
This past year has taught kids that even in the worst of circumstances, we can grow, change, and adapt. We all have done that — even if we think we haven’t. That’s our proof that you can bloom even when life reduces your options and when you’re scared for the future.
Instead of filing COVID-19 in the backs of our memories, we need to remind kids of the power of just getting through, and how it’s one of the most important kinds of growth.
Karen I. Wilson, PhD, director of West LA Neuropsychology, PC, and founder of ChildNEXUS.com
When we think of resilience, we think of a child’s ability to successfully adapt or respond to harmful or stressful life experiences. When challenges are prolonged, like in a pandemic, parents wonder if their child can return to where they were before.
The good news is that kids are capable of working through challenges and coping with stress. They can “bounce back,” but it takes time. Resilience doesn’t happen spontaneously. It’s most likely when a child feels a sense of belonging and safety and has a strong emotional connection to a caring and supportive parent, caregiver, or other adult.
The adults in a child’s life can buffer them from the impact of prolonged stress by helping them develop coping, self-regulation, and problem-solving skills. These supportive relationships increase the likelihood that kids will have positive outcomes.
Amanda Morin, author and education advocate; associate director of thought leadership and expertise at Understood
When I hear the word “resilient,” I see Silly Putty in my mind, stretched almost to the point of breaking apart and then bouncing back together with surprising elasticity. But Silly Putty doesn’t always do that. Sometimes it becomes brittle and breaks, and sometimes it just stays stretched out. It depends on the conditions around it.
Resilience is the same way. It’s not about “bouncing back,” it’s about being able to face and get through adversity and having the skills and purpose to do it. But resilience doesn’t just happen naturally for our kids.
We need to explicitly teach them to be aware of how they’re feeling in the moment — and how what’s going on around them contributes to what they’re feeling. And we also need to teach them ways to manage it.
Elizabeth Harstad, MD, MPH, developmental behavioral pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital
I don’t think the idea of “bouncing back” after the pandemic makes sense for kids — or for adults. The pandemic has significantly changed us all and we shouldn’t expect, or try, to be exactly the same as we were before the pandemic. Also, there will not be a sudden “end” to the pandemic. It will be a slow return to a new normal.
Instead, I think we should help kids focus on where they are now and appreciate how flexible they’ve been during the pandemic. Their ability to adjust during the pandemic shows how strong and resilient they are and can be.
For some kids, especially those with social challenges or anxiety, returning to full-time, in-school learning after the pandemic may be very hard. We will need to continue to support kids — and each other — for years to come as we all process these significant changes in our lives.