Amanda Johnson, Executive Director, Howe Community Resource Center

One cannot deny that the COVID-19 pandemic has divided our country and significantly reshaped our lives. Its effects on children’s health and well-being have become a great concern. Being that I am in the education and mental health space as the Executive Director of the Howe Community Resource Center, I can’t ignore the blatant signals that, although we are no longer in a pandemic, the effects will last long beyond this generation, touching generations to come.

A simple search of “effects of COVID” and “mental health” on all major platforms will, on any given day and at any given time, yield a plethora of articles. For example: Children’s Mental Health is in Crisis, or The Ongoing Effects of Covid-19 on Children’s Health and Wellbeing, or Snapshot of Pandemic’s Mental Health Effects on Children.

After wading through the signals to assess what is truly researched and what is just rhetoric or opinion, the results might seem bleak, but they also provide us with a blueprint for how to proceed. “It is important to note that, because the crisis is so recent, it’s difficult to measure the full impact, but there are early troubling indicators.” (Harvard, 2022). 

As researchers continue to explore the long-term consequences of the virus, it is becoming increasingly evident that COVID-19 can affect children’s brains in various ways. As we navigate the post-pandemic era, understanding these effects becomes crucial for tailoring educational approaches that address the challenges faced by young learners. 

Cognitive Function and Learning Abilities

COVID-19 has been associated with neurological symptoms, including cognitive impairments and difficulties in concentration and memory. These effects may be subtle but long-lasting for some children who have experienced mild or asymptomatic infections. However, severe cases of COVID-19, especially those requiring hospitalization, have been shown to result in more pronounced cognitive impairments. As educators, we must be prepared to accommodate and support students facing challenges in learning, processing information, and retaining knowledge.

Emotional and Mental Health

The pandemic’s psychological toll on children has been considerable, with increased levels of anxiety, depression, and stress. These emotional challenges can impact a child’s ability to focus, engage in learning activities, and regulate their behavior in a classroom setting. Educators will need to create safe and inclusive environments that prioritize mental health support. Schools should incorporate counseling services, promote emotional intelligence, and effectively equip teachers with strategies to identify and address mental health concerns.

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)

The pandemic has underscored the significance of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) in education. SEL encompasses skills like self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, and interpersonal communication, which are crucial for a child’s well-being and academic success. Integrating SEL into the curriculum can help children cope with the pandemic’s emotional challenges and build resilience to face future uncertainties.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the vulnerability of our educational systems to unexpected disruptions. The signals are loud, and sooner, rather than later, our educators and policymakers must recognize the potential impact of the virus on children’s brains and proactively adjust educational practices to accommodate their needs effectively. Emphasizing cognitive, emotional, and social well-being, technological integration, and personalized learning will empower us to create a more resilient, adaptable, and inclusive education system capable of nurturing young minds in the face of future challenges. Simply put, we can’t continue to do as we have always done. The children of today are nothing like the children of yesterday, and our education system and, frankly, our society, must adapt if these children are to survive and thrive in the world we live in today.