When I meet young kids, I am continuously told by parents to excuse their “pandemic baby’s” timid behavior. Kids stare at me like I am the blood-curdling monster under their bed. After the pandemic, social anxiety, especially in young kids, has skyrocketed. To be clear, social anxiety must not be confused with kids that are merely shy. For instance, a shy person may experience normal tendencies to feel nervous when meeting new people, however, when the fear becomes intense and it hinders a kid from performing tasks, that indicates social anxiety.
Our world’s toddlers have lived almost their entire lives during a pandemic. As a result, infants and toddlers spent most of their fundamental years at home, with minimal opportunities to socialize or gain crucial relationship skills. Kids were robbed of the basic experiences of going places and interacting or learning with kids their age. While many kids experienced academic losses, the impact on social development proves more severe in the long term. At such a young age, children develop at a rapid speed as they unravel new information about the world daily. However, the main development occurs through learning with and from other kids. As we get older, we see that the majority of information we acquire derives from our peers. That social interaction proves critical to a child’s development and dictates how they will carry themselves socially.
Additionally, the “pandemic babies” lived their first few years of life constantly experiencing sudden changes. However, when our world called for normalcy again, these kids were affected the most. Change hit them hard as they learned to navigate a whole new world. Therefore, kids’ battles with emotional challenges when faced with the types of sudden life changes that happened during the pandemic triggered elevated levels of cortisol in the brain. These sudden changes activate our “fight or flight” reactions. As a natural defensive reaction, kids subconsciously prepare themselves for the next sudden change. Hence, these young kids possess an intense fear about a multitude of things which seem like obstacles obstructing their way.
Over time, we will likely see fewer behavioral problems and post-COVID anxiety in traditional schools as children adjust to their daily lives, get mental health care and support, and use their natural adaptive skills.