The ability of a person to “bounce back” after a difficult challenge, often called resilience, is more essential at this time, especially for younger children who are still developing their resilience. Young children’s innate ability to adapt can make parents assume they will return to their bubbly selves after absorbing the social blows of the coronavirus pandemic and the frightening television news about rioting during their year or more of isolation. However, that return to normal is a tall order for a small child who’s never experienced social isolation or seen real-life anger and violence on TV.
Media have recently focused on the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on high school and college student morale and the effects of social isolation and a future that may still involve remote learning or masks. But parents need to be more concerned about younger children because today’s frightening challenges can have a destructive long-term impact on personality development. Ages 4 to 10 are when children usually face “normal” challenges that develop resilience: learning to ride a bike, using playground rides without help, making friends, overcoming classroom challenges — all of which and more usually include a bit of failure or frustration and help build resilience. Most older children have already developed their resilience and will adjust. Younger children, still developing resilience, need more support as they reenter society.
Personal accomplishments by young children are critical to their positive outlook, especially as we near the reopening of society, which youngsters may fear after such a frightening time. We do not want the helplessness caused by fearing an invisible virus to form a young child’s view of society as they reenter. Now is the time for children to experience as many achievements and positive reinforcements that a parent can design: showing their art to the world by putting it in the window, planting seeds or a houseplant for which the child cares, building a birdhouse, learning to skate, removing training wheels — all examples of concrete accomplishments that are confidence-builders. Having such accomplishments seen by others can add to resilience building.
Build a statue with scrap. Let an 8-year-old paint the inside of a closet any way they’d like. Build an easy balance beam with two-by-fours on the ground. These and many more nonacademic activities can result in accomplishments that give young children the confidence they need in their young, pandemic-impacted lives. Facilitating music, gym and at-home art activities will validate accomplishments while children are reentering their learning places and help them feel more positive about school.
Given the past two years, parents do not want their children passively reentering society, allowing isolation and TV news to create a less-resilient child who fears society. The child who reenters their education “society” with such fears will have a weak “locus of control,” or a sense that life is never in their control. In turn, this causes a child to place all or most of the responsibility for learning on the teacher rather than themselves.
Children learn more when they have a strong locus of control and take responsibility for their own learning. Resilience and locus of control can be improved with activities that promote task completion, such as helping parents with jobs like laundry and cooking. There is a feeling of personal power and achievement in task completion which further builds resilience. This “power” is essential to being an active rather than passive learner.
Schools and teachers are ready for children, but parents still need to promote “resilience building” at home. When this gets difficult, there are online resources available. A search of the internet for “resilience-building activities for children” will show many articles and suggestions. The baby steps to reentering society and school must start at home. Let’s keep our children happy learners by giving them the positive support and resilience-building activities which help them adjust to school after 18 months of uncertainty.