Nov. 19, 2020Print | PDF
Parents play a critical role in shaping their children’s experiences and memories of the COVID-19 pandemic, says an expert in childhood learning and memory at Wilfrid Laurier University.
“Families have a good opportunity here to help their kids frame the pandemic in positive ways,” says Kim Roberts, professor of Psychology and director of the Laurier Child Memory Lab. “There are lots and lots of positive things that have happened and there are lots of positive things we can say about the children that are going through this. Parents have a big influence.”
As an example, Roberts suggest praising children for their coping skills in the face of adversity.
“It’s good to acknowledge what they’ve done and how they have played a part in this,” she says. “Many children have just accepted how things are, and that shows strength and flexibility, characteristics that will do them well for the rest of their lives.”
Roberts’ research in the Child Memory Lab focuses on how children build up knowledge from different sources, and how they differentiate between learned information and autobiographical memory. She and her colleagues work with police, social workers, teachers and forensic investigators to determine the most effective ways for children to access credible memories.
Since children’s memories improve when parents talk to them about past events – known as “parent-child reminiscing” – Roberts encourages parents to reflect on COVID-19-related experiences with their children in order to help form their long-term perspectives on the pandemic.
"If parents can discuss the positive things that have been happening lately, that’s how children will remember this time."
“Imagine a parent saying, ‘Do you remember when we went to the zoo? What animals did you see there? That’s right – you saw giraffes,’” says Roberts. “That type of reminiscing trains children how to remember things. It tells them what details are important and it teaches them a perspective, that they experienced something different than how another person did. So I think if parents can discuss the positive things that have been happening lately, that’s how children will remember this time.
“Now if you have an anxious child and they want to talk about a negative experience or emotion, then definitely talk about it with them. Naming the source of anxiety allows you to talk it out and work through it together.”
For older children and adolescents who are more aware of the adverse impacts of COVID-19, Roberts believes that they can benefit from being reminded that they are part of a collective global experience.
“We remember the unique things, like that prom never happened or that birthday party never happened,” says Roberts. “But in a pandemic, any individual adolescent is not the only one that went through that disappointment. No one in Grade 12 got their prom. So at some point when they look back on this, it’s just going to be one of those funny life stories.”
Roberts acknowledges that families who have experienced particular hardship due to the pandemic, such as job loss, may have a more difficult time framing it in positive ways due to high anxiety within their homes. But she is encouraged by the fortitude she has observed in young people so far.
“I almost feel that children are dealing with it better than adults are because they are just getting on with it,” says Roberts. “A day is a day is a day for kids, whereas we are thinking about the future and money and consequences and that kind of thing. Certainly there will be negative things that children remember, and that’s okay because life is a bunch of positives and negatives. Kids have been so, so adaptive.”
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