We all know that the pandemic has harmed the mental health of adults, but have we ever thought of how it affected young children? If you have a young kid, you’ve most likely witnessed their confusion during the stay-at-home orders. They couldn’t even go to the playground or visit their grandparents. If they have been attending school before the lockdown, they certainly got puzzled why they had to do online classes for the rest of the school year.
According to UNICEF, 332 million children around the world have lived most of their lives indoors for at least nine months since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic. That’s quite unheard of, except probably during the past pandemics. But no one from those eras is alive today to tell us what it had been like to be cooped up at home for a long time. We had to learn how to cope on our own, and for young children, that can be overwhelming.
Thankfully, the vaccines have been rolling out fast. In no time, children can enjoy the outdoors again. But if your kid has not known the world outside the walls of your home, they may have a challenging time processing the “normal”.
The Effect of Social Distancing on Social Development
According to developmental psychologist Amy Learmonth, PhD, social distancing had the most impact on kids in their late childhood and adolescence. That’s because as children get older and more socially adept, their peers become a more important hub of social development. Simply put, they tend to seek the company of their friends more than their families. Younger kids, particularly those under five years old, may have fewer problems with social distancing since their parents and siblings are usually enough for their social development.
Still, it doesn’t necessarily mean younger kids have had it easier. According to UNICEF, an estimate of 1 in 4 children live with a parent who has a mental disorder. Some of these kids experience neglect, abuse, or violence at home. As such, the pandemic has left them stranded in a detrimental environment. They might not be able to reach out to their teachers, extended families, or communities, who could’ve given them support.
Generally speaking, though, prolonged social distancing can decrease a child’s opportunities for new experiences and discoveries. Virtual interactions can never replace real-life socializing or stimulation. Young kids who have never seen a park yet or met people outside their families may become intimidated when they’re able to. Adolescents and teens, meanwhile, are missing out on the intimacy brought by real-life interactions.
Introducing Safe Outdoor Play for Young Kids
If you’d rather not travel yet, the best outdoor place for your children to play is your backyard. Below are some ways to introduce them to safe outdoor play:
- Plant a Garden
Since their online classes never gave them the opportunity to study plant life up close, plant a garden in your backyard. This is a brilliant way to stimulate their senses and make science approachable for them.
- Backyard Camping
Before the pandemic, chances are you’ve barely used your backyard. We tend to be so focused on ticking off our travel bucket list that we forgot what we already have. So seize the opportunity to liven up your backyard by camping out there as a family. This could also be the time for you to get back on track with your outdoor appliance maintenance. Maybe you have not used your grilling skills for a long time, and you might need new parts for your Lynx BBQ grill. Or perhaps you want to light up a bonfire instead. Your kids will surely see your backyard in a new light if they’ve had an unforgettable experience in it.
- Scavenger Hunt
You don’t need a spacious backyard to hold a game of scavenger’s hunt. As long as you’ve come up with interesting clues, your kids and your whole family will have a blast.
- Outdoor Story Time
During a warm, starry night, take the kids out in the yard and read them a good bedtime story. Choose books that talk about nature and let your kids make connections.
Being outdoors makes kids healthier in mind and body. Research also shows that when children spend time in nature, they have less anger and aggression. So if your kids have been cranky or irritable due to not being able to go out, at least let them play in your yard, and it’ll make a huge difference.
And, of course, get vaccinated if you haven’t already. The sooner your city achieves herd immunity, the safer the outdoors become for your developing kids.