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Past pandemics show quarantines can have a lasting impact on kids

Experts warn of social-emotional impacts of isolation
Parents worry about social impacts of distance learning
Posted at 6:13 PM, Jul 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-29 21:13:47-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — With San Diego County schools doing distance learning this fall, many parents worry their kids will miss out on important social interactions with peers.

In fact, it was the number one concern cited by parents in a series of national surveys conducted earlier in the pandemic.

Research on past pandemics shows quarantines can have a lasting impact on both children and adults.

The American Psychological Association says “having limited access to peers and classmates can affect children’s emotional well-being, which can in turn affect their educational performance, learning and development.”

“As humans, we all need that social interaction,” said UC San Diego associate professor Alison Wishard Guera. “What is does for your development I think is really different across the age ranges.”

Wishard Guera said kids roughly 8 years and younger need to learn how to interact with others.

“The opportunity to have conflicts. To learn how to resolve conflicts. To learn how to share materials. To learn how to coordinate their body in a classroom space with other people. They're going to be missing out on that,” she said.

When children reach adolescence, around 10 or 11 years old, they start to lean on their friends for their identity, she said. With kids feeling more isolated from friends, “we’ve seen a big spike in depression and mental health challenges,” she said.

In its push to reopen schools, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cited research on past pandemics that found kids who were quarantined had post-traumatic stress scores that were four times higher than those who were not quarantined.

And there’s some research suggesting the effects can linger. After the SARS outbreak of 2003, quarantines were associated with higher rates of PTSD and alcohol abuse in adults, even three years after the individuals were quarantined.

Experts say you should be on the lookout for signs your child is struggling with emotions they can’t express: increased anger, irritability, withdrawal, clinginess or changes in sleep and appetite.

Dr. James Rivet, an educational consultant with San Diego Kids First, said one of the best ways to help your child cope is to establish a predictable routine.

“We're going to start waking up at a certain time, and we're going to start getting ready at a certain time and we've got to start eating right,” he said. “Students thrive on routine and structure.”

Part of that routine should include a schedule with fun things for kids to look forward to, like a game night.

Experts say you should set aside time regularly for kids to connect with family members and friends by video, phone or handwritten letters.

And make sure to spend time outside, to ensure children get regular exercise.