by Megan Kirk
For over a year, families have been on lockdown due to the coronavirus outbreak. During this time households have been able to spend more time together than pre-pandemic. Now, as life begins to function around a new normal, children are returning to school and parents are returning to work. With so much time spent together, will the continuing moved to the “new normal” cause a case of separation anxiety?
While children experience attachment from birth, according to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, at around 18 months of age attachments to parents, particularly the mother, are established for most. It is during this time children learn safety and security. With time as an indicator, one-on-one moments with parents, siblings or other household members can help to strengthen ties.
As COVID has caused families to stay on lockdown, the increase in family moments has, in some cases, created stronger bonds. With coronavirus cases on the decline, thanks in part to vaccinations and social distancing, social anxieties caused by the pandemic may become the next hurdle to jump.
“Separation anxiety can stem from a lot of different things. Even adults can have separation anxiety. It stems from fear of what could happen when you are separated from that person. In terms of children, depending on the age, their thinking and cognitive skills are not necessarily fully developed,” says Dawn Clark, a licensed professional counselor and owner of DDC Counseling and Consulting. “There may be a fear that if the parent leaves the home we will never be together again, and something would happen.”
Since March 2020, children have had little to no interaction with individuals outside of their home. Although children have proven to be resilient during times of adversity, stress can manifest in children and display in their sleeping and eating habits as well as their everyday behavior.
“Not getting up on time, not wanting to get dressed and sometimes not sleeping and not eating can be symptoms of some type of distress,” says Clark.
Not all children will experience a separation issue post-pandemic. Some children are displaying signs, and verbally requesting, to return to school and social organizations. As the pandemic has made most adults anxious to return to normal, children have also experienced the push to be around friends and re-establish life as they knew it.
“A lot of kids are ready to go back to school. They want to be with their friends. They want to see their teachers again. They missed that social interaction. Being at home in the virtual environment has been rather stressful for them,” says Clark.
For adults, the stress and uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic has sparked conversation ranging from prevention to fear-based narratives. While parents continue to handle their own feelings of doubt, stress and worry, managing a child’s emotions simultaneously can no doubt add additional concern.
“I think some of it has to do with how the parent is handling that return. Children often pick up on the stress and anxiety of the parent. So, if the parent is feeling some anxiety about allowing their child to go back to school then the child is going to pick up on that,” says Clark. “Understanding where the parent is and their readiness is key in this.”
Aside from children, relationships have also taken a hit during the pandemic. The National Law Review released information in 2020 showing a spike in divorces. In just one month from the start of the pandemic, divorces saw a 34 percent spike. Newlywed couples married five months or less saw a 9 percent increase in divorce rates from 2019 to 2020, rising from 11 percent to 20 percent.
The pandemic has helped to expose issues in various relationships and has caused some couples to put their cards on the table. With the increase in time spent together, creating a false narrative around a rocky relationship can prove detrimental for both men and women.
“If that relationship didn’t have a good foundation before the pandemic, to have expectations that this false incubation of the relationship is going to change anything may be setting someone up for failure,” says Clark.
While infidelity is not always the cause of a breakup, it can prove to be a difficult barrier to overcome. Wiley Library reports findings from the American Psychological Association stating 25 percent of married couples will experience a form of infidelity in their relationship. From rises in online dating profiles to social media flirtation, cheating may take on a new form in the midst of the pandemic but is still just as damaging.
“Just in terms of relationship, if the person was unfaithful before the pandemic there is nothing to say their behavior was going to change unless during that time, they worked on their relationship,” says Clark.
As the world continues to course through the financial and emotional effects of the pandemic, finding purposeful reasoning behind working through relationship anxiety, fears of returning to school and work and other mental stressors caused by COVID-19 will be key in moving the needle forward in the new normal.
“We were forced into a social isolation and now is the opportunity to be intentional about some of those connections. As we move back into the workplace or our new norms, we have to be intentional,” Clark says.