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COVID-19: An Opportunity To Build Resilience

It’s been almost a year since the first outbreak in China, and COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc across the globe. While Singapore seems to have the situation under control at the moment, we must remain vigilant as we navigate this new normal that we find ourselves in.

In addition to presenting several uncertainties regarding people’s livelihood, health and safety, while eliciting fear and anxiety, the pandemic has generated additional challenges and responsibilities for adults at home and in early childhood settings. Managing young children and helping them settle into this ever-evolving new normal is not an easy task. However, when we dive deeper, it’s clear that this period can also be viewed as an opportunity to build their resilience.

Resilience: What is it?

Resilience is a much talked about topic these days and widely addressed in several platforms. In essence, it involves how people adapt, manage and cope with adversities, bounce back and function well[1],[2],[3],[4].

Adult-child interactions

While a complex array of protective factors is associated with resilience, experts unanimously acknowledge adult-child relationships as a fundamental building block of resilience in young children. Adult-child interactions on a one-on-one basis serve as an excellent tool to offer emotional support that children need during this period of uncertainty.

Interacting with children consists of more than just listening. It calls for maintaining eye contact, acknowledging, paraphrasing, and following the child’s line of conversation. The quality of interactions with children is critical in building a trusting relationship. Adopting an empathetic approach communicates that the adult is genuinely interested in what the child has to say, thus bolstering a sense of emotional safety, and strengthening the relationship with the child, a key protective factor that builds resilience in young children[5],[6],[7],[8].

Children’s literature: A powerful medium to address children’s anxiety during this period of uncertainty

Wearing face shields, maintaining social distance, not sharing materials and developing safe habits are all gradually becoming part of our children’s new normal. Combined with substantial news reporting about the virus and family talks, this new experience may cause fear and anxiety in many children, and leave them with several baffling questions about the present and future. While there are many ways to respond, developmentally appropriate stories related to COVID-19 serve as a valuable tool to facilitate interactive discussions about characters experiencing a similar situation.

Examples of children’s literature include:

  • My Hero is You: How Kids Can Fight COVID-19! (Inter Agency Standing Committee, 2020)
  • Talking About Coronavirus-19 with Young Children (United Nations Children’s Fund, 2020)
  • COVID-19 Helpers (Bacon, 2020)
  • Together: Living Life During COVID-19 (Poplawski, 2020)

Tips when reading stories with children

  • Read the books more than once to aid familiarity with the plot and characters.
  • Talk with them about the characters during and after reading the story. Having conversations about the experiences of characters like Salem in the story My Hero is You: How Kids Can Fight COVID-19! can be a useful start to help children think about their own experiences of not meeting close relatives during this period, and ways to cope.
  • Ask open-ended questions like “Why do you think Sara’s mum called her a superhero?” or “How can you become a superhero?” These kinds of questions can anchor interactive discussions, help children think deeper about the current situation and their experiences, and foster problem-solving skills[9].
  • Present information in a developmentally appropriate manner so that it does not fuel further anxiety in them.

The task of building young children’s resilience is multifaceted and complex, and cannot be achieved overnight. However, taking small steps will help bring positive outcomes in the long run and pave the way for resilience building in young children. So, in this time of great uncertainty, let’s also look at it as an opportunity.

This article is written by Dr. Kaveri, Lecturer, Early Childhood Education Programme, S R Nathan School of Human Development. It first appeared in Early Educators, June 2020, reprinted with the permission of the Association for Early Childhood Educators Singapore (AECES). www.aeces.org. AECES also approved a few amendments to the article.

Citations:

[1] Hornor, G. (2016). Resilience. Journal of paediatric health care. 31(3), 384-390. Inter-Agency Standing Committee. (2020). My hero is you: How kids can fight Covid-19.

[2] Vernon R.F. (2004) A brief history of resilience: From early beginnings to current constructions. In C. S. Clauss-Ehlers & M.D. Weist (Eds). Community Planning to Foster Resilience in Children (pp.13-26). Springer: Boston, MA.

[3] National Scientific Council on the Developing Child (2015). Supportive relationships and active skill-building strengthens the foundations of resilience: Working paper no. 13.

[4] Center on the Developing Child. (2015). The science of resilience (In Brief). Retrieved from www.developingchild.harvard.edu.

[5] Gatrell, D. (2014). A guidance approach for the encouraging classroom (6th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

[6] Gatrell, D., & Gallo, M. (2015, October). Guidance with children who show challenging behaviours. Child Care Exchange, 225, 18-21.

[7] Petty, K. (2014). Ten ways to foster resilience in young children: Teaching kids to “bounce back”. Dimensions of Early Childhood, 42(3), 35-39.

[8] Nolan, A., Taket, A., Stagnitti, K. (2014). Supporting resilience in early years’ classrooms: The role of the teacher. Teachers and Teaching, 20(5), 595-608. DOI: 10.1080/13540602.2014.937955

[9] Petty, K. (2012). Using books to foster resilience in young children. Texas Child Care

Resources

Bacon, B. (2020). Covid-19 helpers (K. Lee, Illus). Pixel Titles: Rollingbay, WA.

Poplawski, K. (2020). Together: Living life during Covid-19 (M. Rausch, Illus).

Poplawski, K. (2020). Together: Living life during Covid-19 (M. Rausch, Illus). Retrieved from http://www.globalhealth.emory.edu/pdfs/Together_Poplawski_Rausch.pdf

United Nations Children’s Fund. (2020). Talking about Corona Virus -19 with young children. Retrieved from https://www.unicef.org/jamaica/media/2126/file/ 20200320-UNICEF-lacro-coronavirus-19-young-children-ENG.pdf.pdf

World Health Organisation. (2020). Children’s storybook released to help children and young people cope with Covid-19. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/newsroom/detail/09-04-2020-children-s-story-book-released-to-help-children-and-young-people-cope-with-covid-19

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