Fun at home?
Times like these can challenge us to reflect on our assumptions - what we think we know. Here’s one - Most children hope for snow days, for summer to arrive and for it to last longer than it does. They wish for more and longer breaks from school. As an elementary teacher, back in the day, I loved our first days back after a break or weekend. We would happily drift away from the lesson and into sidebars detailing the fun and adventurous things the chatty kids did while not in school. There were the silent few, who I know now, were wounded by others’ joy, by their privilege.
It was the privilege of comfort, connection, opportunity, and safety at home, they must have envied. For some students, going to the movies, roller skating, and eating out were beyond their grasp, even their wildest dreams. Instead, they went home and wished for siblings to not mess with them in their sleep. They would hope for more blankets in the winter, for the electricity turned back on, and for food in the house to last past when Power Packs donations ran out by Saturday morning. Being allowed to go outside to play was not a given. Once I knew more about their personal experiences, I stopped asking or enabling reports from anyone regarding their time away from school. Morning meetings became present-moment awareness practices, tasting healthy snacks, and brainstorming predictions of what we might do together in our classroom.
Covid-19 has turned our world upside-down, like when a boat flips in a storm, creating dangers beyond what we could have imagined. It has exposed new challenges across society, within communities, and more pointedly, in homes where children are now sequestered. Their experiences now will have a profound and lasting impact on them. For some, this period will be generally positive or at least neutral, but for the more vulnerable (whose weekends are already a nightmare), this spring is traumatic and will shape the rest of their lives with devastating results.
What kind of impact? Research on early exposure to hardship became more mainstream in the late 1990s. The original ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) study by Anda & Felitti (1998) found a correlation between early (up to age 18) exposure to trauma and later manifestation of disease, as well as other risk factors. ACEs include abuse, neglect, and dysfunction in the home – with a total of 10 indicators within those three themes. And since then, additional factors have emerged to keep up with the times like social isolation, rejection from peers, community violence, bullying, and poverty itself.
Being that the original ACEs focused on children’s personal exposure to home-based trauma, these forced Stay-at-Home orders will severely impact many more children. Of course, outcomes will differ broadly based on multiple variables including but not limited to: family situation, degree of stability, access to resources, ability to feel safe, the temperament and mental condition of caregivers, reactivity of the stress response among family members, as well as the protective, inner resources one brought into this pandemic.
Optimism and Reality
Optimism bubbles up in social media like this anonymous, somewhat viral post:
My heart gravitated toward such hopeful possibilities when I first envisioned them, but my head and my experience know better. Yes, glimmers of the bright side of this global crisis exist, I honor those. Ideally, what if the new ACEs could be Advanced Coping Effects? That would be amazing - but in my community, where I teach, many children, teens, and families are (and were already) deeply struggling.
Adapting to Needs
Educators, school staff, mental health professionals, and community groups are reaching out to families in their homes. Some are successfully connecting and providing aid in comprehensive ways, while others can now assume that many families have slipped into isolation, whether intentionally or not. Thus, many children who dreaded weekends and holidays because food, caring, and safety were scarce at home, are now locked in with increasingly stressed adults. And as this period of isolation drags on and intensifies, so does their agony and trauma. Lost will be any gains made in their social connections, emotional skills, academic confidence, and sense of curiosity.
Survival takes precedence, as it should, and the most impressionable brains and nervous systems will cease to grow as they otherwise could. Wounding and regressing are sadly going to become the new normal.
As helping professionals, we must feel empowered and resourced to:
The 2020 batch of what might someday be considered (and researched) as ACEs will evolve during and after children’s exposure to trauma in their homes. They may even fit within the acronym of ACEs (At-home Covid Effects). What we, as caring professionals, do now and in the future, will directly shape how our society rights itself after this long capsize of Covid-19.
(A future article will delve into the effects of these new ACEs in the age of Covid-19 on teens especially.)