How the Pandemic is Affecting Children—and What You Can Do to Help your Child

A YMCA summer camp camper wearing a face mask plays with legos during an activity at his camp.

It has been over a year since many of us first heard of COVID-19 and since then, it has disrupted almost every aspect of our lives. With parents working more than ever or not at all, activities canceled, school taught through electronic devices and playdates a distant memory, there’s no denying that the pandemic’s impact on our children is overwhelming. 

Steve Castleton, father of two daughters and volunteer youth basketball coach at the Kennett Area YMCA, has a front row seat to the pandemic’s impact on children. “Socially and emotionally, it’s been difficult—they miss their friends and other normal human interactions,” shares Steve.

Since the start of the pandemic the YMCA has been on the front lines—organizing food drives and blood drives, providing virtual group exercise classes, checking in on isolated seniors and offering summer camp, childcare, and learning centers for children doing virtual schooling. This has given us an up-close view of how children are coping. Isolation, lack of physical activity and stress are some of the biggest challenges we’ve seen.

Tackling Isolation and Loneliness

The data tells a challenging story. In 2020, emergency room visits for mental health concerns in children ages 5–11 rose 24% over a year prior. Children ages 6-15 are reporting more feelings of helplessness (66%), worry (68%) and fear (62%) in addition to parents reporting their children having shortened attention spans, being more clingy and showing greater irritability. Doctors are also experiencing increases in the number of kids with sleep disturbances, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, substance abuse and suicidal thoughts. 

While worrisome, experts are quick to point out that kids are resilient, especially when parents and caregivers help them through times of crises. They recommend parents/caregivers talk with children about what is happening while validating the feelings their kids share and helping them to comprehend and understand them. Find a time that best works to connect with your child – try going on regular walks or drives together to eliminate distractions. The CDC has a guide for parents offering age-appropriate resources for families including conversation starters, activities and more.

Providing Offerings for Physical Activity and Play 

Between time spent in front of a computer screen, limited or canceled activities and colder weather, kids have less physical activity. This has resulted in a number of issues and some doctors are reporting increased cases of eating disorders, especially in adolescents.

While some families are benefitting from the many open spaces and preserves available in Chester County, it can still be challenging to hit your step count or get back to your pre-pandemic fitness routine. Why not sign up for the YMCA’s RESET Challenge? The challenge, which will explore different ways for everyone and families to get active for 150 minutes a week, is FREE to all members of our community. 

Interested in more? Request a free trial for a 7-day pass to explore YMCA offerings including group exercise classes – in person and online – gym equipment, youth training programs, indoor pools and discounts on youth programs and activities. Along with your free trial, we’ll share the many policies we have in place to keep our spaces safe and clean. 

Lightening the Financial Burden

We’ve all seen the pictures on the news with long lines at local food banks. With unemployment at an all-time high, more families than ever are experiencing hunger or food insecurity. When kids go hungry, their ability to call upon their mental and emotional reserves to cope lessens and they are at an increased risk for hyperactivity, aggression and anxiety. We began food drives at the start of the pandemic at the YMCA and continue them at our Oscar Lasko YMCA branch today.

At the YMCA, our mission is to ensure everyone has the support they need to grow strong in spirit, mind and body. Being able to stay safely connected to one another and remain active is critical for kids to successfully cope with the pandemic. That’s why we reviewed expert advice on preventing the spread of COVID and implemented countless safety protocols—mask requirements, heightened disinfection and more—to create the safest experience possible at the YMCA.

Through many generous donors and our fundraising efforts, the YMCA provides financial assistance for those with need – including summer camp and childcare – as well as income-based membership opportunities. You can donate to support these programs on our website. All donations go to support families directly in our community.

As a non-profit organization dedicated to youth development, healthy living and social responsibility, we believe that every child deserves to have safe spaces where they can grow, learn and thrive safely—and we won’t stop working to ensure that every child in our community has that opportunity. We know it’s more important than ever during these challenging times. 

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