The socioemotional impact of online learning during covid

Mother and child discussing

The development of socioemotional wellbeing is paramount to children’s development which can have positive mid-term and long-term effects across the lifespan, hence, efforts must be made to ensure that adults safeguard children’s well-being to counteract the potential harm of social isolation. Adults are also likely to experience the negative effects of social isolation and should seek assistance when needed. Adults should reflect upon and understand the way in which the current pandemic is also affecting them so that they can manage the situation at home and thus model self-regulating strategies to children.

People may think of feeling lonely and abandoned, however technology should be used to maintain social interaction with the significant others. The absence of social interaction triggers self-preservation mechanisms at psychological, social and biological level to counteract the effects of social isolation, however there is evidence to suggest
that this may take a toll on children’s well-being in the long-term. Despite these strengths, there are some limitations that should be noted. First, this review did not follow the usual protocol of a systematic review given the urgency of the current pandemic and the need to offer the public, evidence-informed strategies to avoid any harm on children’s mental health. Second, there is possible bias in the selection of studies as a result of not following the protocol for systematic reviews, however there seems to be
strong evidence to support the notion that social isolation can be dangerous in the long-term. Caregivers, professionals, parents and caregivers in general, should be aware of the negative consequences of social isolation and able to use effective strategies to ameliorate the negative impact on children’s mental
health.

Socioemotional skills are necessary for the development of children’s relationships and occur in a context with parents, siblings and relatives.

In this way, they can express and communicate their needs, interests and ideas which helps them establish meaningful relationships and emotional connections with their most significant adults. Emotional development in young children includes the extent to which a child is able to experience, recognise, categorise, name
and regulate his/her own emotions which in turn, also helps them to regulate behaviors in different situations. Developing emotional skills is of utmost
importance as it helps children recognize emotions in others.

This is of relevance since this will allow the child to develop a sense of empathy – which is a necessary skill when living and coexisting within a social group. From a developmental psychology perspective, it is well known that social skills and emotional skills, are indeed distinct, but both sets of skills coexist and support the development of each
other. The interrelation of socioemotional skills and well-being (socioemotional wellbeing), assumes a “stable state that indicates the emotional evaluation, positive or negative that an
individual makes of the results of the totality of his/her interactions”.

With this in mind, positive social interactions are fundamental to promoting socioemotional wellbeing. A fundamental element here is the need to listen to children’s experiences as an effective strategy to promote and establish empathetic and meaningful relationships with adults.

Children’s views are widely ignored by their parents, but there is evidence that when children’s needs, interest and ideas are attended to they feel important and valued, and this may have an important positive impact on their socioemotional well-being. Creating opportunities to listen to children’s views seems to improve parent-child
interactions. Positive parent–child involvement promotes children’s cognitive, social, and emotional well-being. When adults listen to children, children feel understood, loved, valued
and more importantly safe -especially in stressful situations.

Current measures such as social isolation may jeopardise children’s well-being since children’s interactions could be potentially limited
during the current lockdown. Feelings of despair, uncertainty, sadness or insecurity may arise as a result of the limited physical interaction with others when isolated in addition to triggering a range of behaviours which children under normal circumstances, would not display. However, it is important to note that children could still have an “interaction” with their neighbourhood friends, school peers, relatives and so forth throughout the use of technology. This will be further discussed in
the recommendations section.

Suggested Solutions?

Monitor or limit media exposure: Young children -just like adults- react differently to the information around the current situation which could be greatly influenced by their exposure to media. Media (e.g., TV or radio) and social media (e.g., internet-based social networks) have been
found to greatly influence children’s mood, emotions and behaviours. Young children will try to use their cognitive resources (e.g., knowledge and information, social relationships,

emotional connections with significant adults) to make sense of their world by interpreting the events around them.

Adults should limit the consumption of news and regulate the information children are exposed to since this could trigger feelings of fear or sadness or even

depressive symptoms. This will allow adults to identify and control the information children are watching/reading and offer more developmentally appropriate

information to support children’s understanding of the situation. Adults should also reassure children and make them feel secure by giving them developmentally appropriate information that they can use to understand and face the current situation. This will make children feel secure and supported by their loved ones.

Stay in touch virtually: Research reveals that under stressful circumstances, a person’s social support network (e.g., talking to relatives, close friends, co-workers) is fundamental to successfully manage such circumstances. Social isolation does not mean that adults and children cannot interact with their social support network with the use of technology. Adults should create opportunities for children (and for themselves) where virtual meetings take place. This will allow to share experiences and the way in which different persons of the network are dealing with the situation. By sharing one’s feelings (e.g., children and adults) and learning from other perspectives, children (and adults) may feel relieved and may learn, that they are not alone in this situation.

The rapid spread of the COVID-19 has triggered a worldwide epidemic emergency which is an international concern given that it poses several challenges to physical and mental health of humans across the globe. The declaration of “pandemic” by the WHO led governments to put in place strategies to stop the spread of the virus; most significantly, enforced lockdown and social isolation. Like businesses and universities, schools around the world have been closed and children must remain at home during this pandemic.

However, social isolation could have a negative impact on young children’s wellbeing and if not addressed properly, it could trigger long-term negative effects in their mental health.

While social isolation has proven useful to stop spreading the virus, social epidemiology research shows that comorbidity of physical illnesses and mental disorders is higher
especially in the absence of positive social relationships. Psychological studies show that social isolation could trigger several complications including emotional disturbance, sleep
disorders, depressive syndromes, anxiety and stress. However, little is known about the psychological impact of social isolation during COVID-19 on young children’s mental
health and to date, there are no specific guidelines regarding effective psychological strategies that could support children’s wellbeing.