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How COVID-19 affects the development and mental health of preschoolers

How COVID-19 affects the development and mental health of preschoolers

Dining keys

  • Children under the age of 6 resisted despite showing signs of emotional distress amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • With little life experience to understand the sudden changes in prison, preschoolers often reflect the stress and emotions of their parents.
  • It is important for parents to avoid being harsh with themselves when taking on the challenge of their children’s virtual education.

When the COVID-19 pandemic was declared in March, school closures came in waves across the country, forcing teachers, students and parents to navigate a new world of e-learning. The stress of these circumstances was shared by all involved, including the youngest in the group: preschool children.

Although it is not clear how this period of time will affect younger children in the long run, this age group showed signs of emotional suffering and incredible resilience.

Class changes

For schools and care programs that remain open, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended social distancing strategies in classrooms, intensified cleaning and disinfection efforts, modified teaching and pick-up procedures, and student tests upon arrival, if possible. . The masks are recommended for staff and children over 2 years old. .

Devon Mello, a preschool teacher at Brown / Fox Point Early Childhood Education Center in Providence, Rhode Island, says his classroom playgrounds have remained largely the same, but the way children interact with them and between them has changed. dramatic.

Usually, children are encouraged to play together. And at this age, peer play is incredibly important and necessary for development. Now, students must occupy the designated areas of the class individually.

«This has been an area of ​​growth and adaptation for everyone, because children are willing and eager to join in an area or activity that seems fun,» says Mello. «Although these changes have proven to be successful for everyone, I am concerned about the change in mentality from ‘sharing’ to ‘individual’.»

Each of Mello’s students has designated places, separated from each other by Plexiglas separators. And each student has their own basket of items and paper, unlike the usual goods that students shared before the pandemic. Mello students used these materials to draw pictures and write letters to friends and family they could not see, indicating that they were aware of the great distance.

Although these changes have proven successful for everyone, I am concerned about the change in mentality from «sharing» to «individual».


Research has shown that the pandemic has limited the time children spend outdoors, leading to less physical activity and more sedentary behavior. Mello says her school encourages them to spend as much time outside during the school day as possible so that students can access the playground and experience nature.

At this time, much of the responsibility for caring for the physical and mental health of students lies on the shoulders of teachers, who must also act as sanitation monitors. Teachers are expected to teach in the classroom and closely monitor their students, while keeping the health protocol in mind. It’s a tough act.

And since students can’t interact with each other, they spend more time alone with their teachers. Mello says it was a struggle to divide his time equally. To focus on social and emotional growth, Mello and colleagues developed a curriculum that alternates traditional topics, such as math-based activities and discussions about dinosaurs and activities that explore personal and family identity.

«Although there has been a shift in materials that are becoming increasingly individual for safety reasons, we emphasize the importance of our community and its diversity in our reading times and art projects,» says Mello.

Editing effects psychological

For most people, the drastic changes that accompanied the pandemic have led to extreme levels of stress and anxiety. And research shows that closure can have a huge impact on young people’s emotional and social development. .

Children under the age of 6 are more likely to develop hanging behavior and fear that family members will contract the virus than older children. Children of single or divorced parents can also develop greater emotional distress if they are separated from one parent due to quarantine. These painful experiences manifested as symptoms such as sadness, sleep disturbances, poor appetite, agitation, inattention, and separation anxiety.

That being said, there are also positive aspects to this situation, such as more quality time with parents. With their limited life experience, young children can be very flexible and can show great strength in difficult times.

«The kids were incredibly resilient every day through all of this and take every corner with pace and understanding,» says Mello. «I’m always scared and proud of them.»

The pandemic has really highlighted inequalities in our care systems, and those with limited access to high-quality childcare or preschool options could have larger gaps in social, emotional and academic outcomes.


The long-term impact on behavioral and mental health remains to be seen. But Dr. Annie George-Puskar , an educational psychologist and assistant professor at Fordham University, is most concerned with low-income and disadvantaged families.

«The pandemic has really highlighted inequalities in our care systems, and those with limited access to high-quality child care or preschool options could have larger gaps in social, emotional and academic outcomes,» says George-Puskar. «The additional impact on families facing financial stress and food insecurity adds to the environmental impact on children’s well-being, which could affect them in the future.»

Children with disabilities face additional challenges

Children with disabilities are also at higher risk of being affected. For these students, school psychologist Camille Henderson says the online learning experience has been extremely varied. While some students thrive without social distractions, others struggle without the support of their teachers.

And for the parents and caregivers of these children, the responsibilities also include the supervision of therapeutic programs. This can be extremely difficult without the personal support of medical staff.

«Big changes cause big problems,» says Henderson. «You are now practically in a way that has never existed before. And the reality is that some children are at home in situations we can’t control. «

A recent study assessed the impact of COVID-19 on the families of young children with intellectual and developmental disabilities of various ethnic, linguistic and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Parents reported that their biggest challenge was caring for their children at home after losing essential services. While these parents found a silver line in the fact that the family was able to spend time together at home, many were concerned about the long-term effects of this period on their children’s development.

Since the pandemic broke out, Henderson has been training parents in the challenges of e-learning. Parents often feel «bad teachers» when in reality putting the responsibility for the child’s educational development on the shoulders of parents at this time is simply not reasonable. Henderson urges you to consider the expertise needed to build and implement your child’s educational plan under normal circumstances.

«Parents miss the secret sauce and punish themselves,» he says. «Many parents face guilt.»

Parental strategies

For parents whose children practically attend school, there are strategies that will help you keep your child on the right track while you feel good about yourself. First, Henderson recommends creating a visual program to help your child know what to expect during the day.

«Kids need their own agency,» says Henderson. «Children need their own structure and consistency and they need to know what your expectations are.»

Stopwatches are also useful and can be used for both homework and play; play is a necessary part of your child’s day. Choose an activity that you and your child will enjoy and set a timer. Learning happens by playing, and this time it can also serve as a welcome break. Participating in playtime with your child can alleviate the stress he or she is experiencing.

Be human in front of your children and speak to them as developmentally appropriate.


Emotional awareness is important here. Children are perceived and will reflect the stress of their parents. With hard times ahead and hard times ahead, it’s important to maintain a level of transparency with your children about the unique challenges of this moment.

«By not being difficult, your child doesn’t favor because he will experience difficult things, and if he remembers that it wasn’t difficult for his parents, that creates a superhuman expectation,» says Henderson. «Be human with your children and talk to them as developmentally appropriate.»

Navigating this pandemic is confusing for everyone, and your children will have questions too. While patience can be a limited resource, you can have a positive impact on your child’s development by giving them curiosity and helping them understand their environment.

«Preschoolers ask questions to understand the world around them,» says George-Puskar. «While some of the questions may be difficult to answer, it’s important to give them a safe space to ask them.»

What does this mean for you?

Young children are resilient, but will reflect the stress and emotions of their parents. Be kind to yourself as you navigate your child’s virtual education and give them time to have fun together.