Ed. Note: this is the first in a two-part series with Mr. Andrew Garber, a Masters’ level psychotherapist and certified hypnotherapist, dealing with the psychological impact of the pandemic on children and how parents can help their children build resilience to cope. This first installation will deal with understanding the psychological impact of isolation and the second will deal with tips for parents to help children cope.
Sheltering in place is hard on both children and adults. But as we navigate this unprecedented time, many parents are looking for resources on the impact this will have on our children. After all, these little people are capable of big feelings.
As I went for a random drive to leave the house, my 3-year-old son began sobbing. He cried because he missed his grandparents. He wanted me to drive to their house. He told me the virus was over and we could go visit them. As an adult and his mother, I tried to tell him that we couldn’t go and give him the reassurance he needed. But I found my cheeks wet with tears right along with my son as I realized that none of us are immune to the emotional impact of the pandemic.
Because this issue is so important we called on the expertise from Andrew Garber, a Masters’ level psychotherapist and certified hypnotherapist, to get the intel on everything we need to understand about the psychological impact of the pandemic on our children. Here is what he had to say:
Understanding Human Social Behavior
To understand the impact, you have to start at the roots of human social behavior. “Human social behavior includes how an individual’s thoughts, feelings, and behavior influences, and is influenced by, other people. Creating social relationships is central to personal well-being.” Mr. Garber cited to Harvey Jackins, “The Human Side of Beings” where Jackins identified our “human side” as follows:
Humans have a vast intelligence. According to Mr. Garber, “We are, believe it or not, the smartest of all creatures. We have the capacity to reflect upon and/or think in terms of what we learned in the past, consider what we want/need in the future and then behave accordingly in the here and now (the present) to attain our goals and achieve our purpose….we can learn along the journey.
2. Zest For Life
Second, Mr. Garber explained we have a zest for life. “We humans get a ‘kick out of living.” We strive to pursue pleasantries, all that is good, all that brings us joy (unless we have been exposed to exclusive unpleasantry);
3. Desire To Connect
Finally, and perhaps most important to current events, humans “long to be in a relationship with other human beings.” It is in our nature to interact, to connect, to be social, to be with “others like us!” Mr. Garber explained, these characteristics are all triggered during isolation.
What Happens Without Social Relationships?
Isolation and the absence of social relationships have been shown to affect child development in various ways. Studies show that socially isolated children tend to have lower subsequent educational attainment, be part of a less advantaged social class in adulthood, and are more likely to be psychologically distressed in adulthood. In fact, long-term isolation from others is closely related to loneliness and physiological illness as it can affect a healthy development of the brain. Loneliness, in turn, creates a domino effect as it is the catalyst for higher levels of stress, intellectually, emotionally and physiologically.
The Power Of Touch
Mr. Garber explained there are three means by which humans interact: (1) verbal, (2) non-verbal, and (3) tactile. As we are able to continue to communicate with verbal and non-verbal means to some extent, is the current absence of touch that may impact us most.
Touch: Our First Love Language
Many specialists agree the one major aspect of our socialization, our human avenue of connection, is through physical touch. Hand to hand, arm to arm, a mutual hug, human touch is a language more powerful than both words and gestures combined. Touch is the first sense we acquire (our first “language”) is the development of both secure friendships, as well as, healthy loving relationships. In fact, we begin receiving tactile signals before birth, as the vibration of our mother’s heartbeat is amplified by amniotic fluid.
The security created by touch continues through infancy: An essential channel of communication with caregivers for a child, e.g., a mother’s touch can signify security (“You’re Safe, I am Here!”). Depending on the type of touch, it can generate negative or positive emotions. We are equipped with an ability to send and receive emotional signals solely via touch. We also have the ability to interpret the touch of other humans in terms of anger, fear, disgust, love, gratitude, sympathy, joy & sadness.
Touch As An Anchor
Within the world of hypnotherapy touch serves as an anchor, a reinforcement of the spoken word, which can firmly assist the client in her/his attempt to successfully change a pattern of unwanted, destructive, or senseless thoughts or behaviors. It is hard to imagine touch as an effective technique, albeit confirmed time and time again in many of my case files.
The true indicator of a healthy long-term relationship is not how often your partner touches you, but rather how often your partner touches you in response to your touch. So unfortunate the fact remains touch is no longer an option for children with their closest friends, aunts, uncles, cousins, teammates, next door neighbors, etc. A simple handshake appears to have become extinct because of the fears associated with the transmission of the “new enemy among us.”
Sadly, without human touch as an option, a child’s world becomes like a distant island isolated from the things that are inherent to the child’s nature, the desire to freely be with others, without restrictions, without limitations.
The Enemy Among Us
“The new enemy among us” led President Trump to refer to our current pandemic as a situation that merits the label of “war!” We are, in fact, at war and it appears our personal freedom has been contaminated to the point whereby we must be aware, on-guard, almost fearful of all social contacts. We must take precautions and adjust our lives to avoid the virus at all costs. We know the drill as we have been inundated daily, hourly, and perhaps even minute by minute by updates stressing our need to protect ourselves from the enemy virus thanks to our modern world of electronic communication. We cannot help but feel angst the stress of daily living almost every minute of every day.
Isolation As A Threat
The human’s stress response primary function is to protect the body from the environment. When a person (especially a child) is socially isolated, missing social interaction, the body will perceive the situation as a threat. During the time of the active stress response, the brain will release multiple stress hormones to protect the body from danger. The release of these hormones is needed for the person to react towards the current stress factor and resist the possible harm.
However, the body cannot release these stress hormones and protect the body from stressful situations for an unlimited time. Experiencing an active stress response over an extended period has been proven to increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, elevated blood pressure, infectious illness, cognitive deterioration, and mortality. These are physiological consequences of being prone to stress over time, and they are typically experienced in adulthood. High levels of stress are therefore regarded as a threat to a socially isolated child’s health, not only in their early years of life but also in adulthood.
Socially isolated children’s worlds have been “narrowed” and they are at increased risk of health problems in adulthood. Furthermore, studies on social isolation have demonstrated that a lack of social relationships can, in fact, negatively impacts the development of the brain’s structure.
The Fear Factor
Another key factor in the child’s interpretation of current events is based in fear. During the time of a pandemic such as our current Coronavirus dilemma, the child not only is required to relinquish and/or abstain from social interaction which would otherwise under normal situations be quite routine and acceptable behavior, but she/he is also exposed to the “worry” presented by those in their world such as media, authorities and most significantly parents.
Children, in fact, can be greatly affected by the way their parents respond to the “fear at hand.” Witnessing parental fear reactions. Burt (1943) and later Baider and Rosenfeld (1974), in studies following the effects of World War II and/or other major wars, described several cases of war neurosis in children who witnessed parental panic reactions or extreme fear reactions. Parental reactions to violence are a strong predictor of how the children will react to a traumatic event, especially during the threat of and/or direct experience of war. The Coronavirus, like war, can be strongly considered a “traumatic event” which in turn, may serve as a predictor of symptomatology associated with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.
Although the Coronavirus has infiltrated life completely as we know it, it doesn’t mean we are helpless. There is hope. Resilience is something we possess as do our children. As parents we can foster that resilience and help our children navigate the pandemic.
The world will be okay, checkout Staying Positive During The Pandemic.
Andrew Garber is a Masters’ level psychotherapist, Licensed in The State of Florida as a Marriage and Family Therapist and has been Certified as a Hypnotherapist since 1992. He is also a Certified Supervisor of Marriage and Family Therapy Interns and recently received recognition as a trained Neutral Mental Health Collaborative Divorce Professional. His work in the counseling field spans over 40 years in a myriad of arenas.
During the current pandemic he continues to “see” his clients via Tele-video sessions and continues his best to offer keys to solutions to all whom he meets. He has a passion for others and a connection to all. He hopes to continue to serve for a long time and may be reached via his phone/text at 386.747.3554 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. You are invited to visit his website for additional information at www.garbercounseling.com.