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Stuck at home last March, 11-year-old Cecilia Conway plays with her cat in Cranston, Rhode Island (left). In May 2020, one New York City park created circles to help people stay 6 feet apart (center). Twelve-year-old Dannon Lemon does his schoolwork from home in Richmond, California, last April (right).

Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images (Cecilia Conway); JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images (social distance circles); Yalonda M. James/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images (Dannon Lemon)

STANDARDS

NGSS: Core Idea: LS1.B, LS2.C

CCSS: Speaking & Listening: 1

TEKS: Science: 3.10B, 4.10C, 5.9A, 6.2A; ELA: 3.13A, 3.13H, 4.13A, 4.13H, 5.13A, 5.13H

Life Under Lockdown

 How kids across the U.S. have handled stress during the pandemic 

As you read, think about how you have dealt with your emotions during the pandemic.

When Ava Bennett left school on March 13, 2020, she was excited. The 10-year-old from Columbus, Ohio, had plans to go to Disney World with her family for spring break. But then she learned Disney World was closed. School was also closed for the rest of the year. In fact, her whole family had to stay home. Ava felt confused and sad.

Do Ava’s feelings sound familiar? Kids in every U.S. state spent the end of the 2019-2020 school year at home. The reason was a pandemic caused by a novel coronavirus. The virus was first detected in China in December 2019. It quickly spread around the globe, infecting millions and killing more than 500,000.

To stop the spread of the virus, officials in the U.S. closed schools and many businesses. People were ordered to stay home. They were asked to wear face coverings in public and keep 1.8 meters (6 feet) apart. The crisis has caused stress in both children and adults. But kids like Ava have found ways to persevere. “There’s light at the end of the tunnel,” Ava says.

Ava Bennett was excited when she left school on March 13, 2020. The 10-year-old lives in Columbus, Ohio. Her family had plans to go to Disney World over spring break. But then Ava learned that Disney World was closed. She also wouldn’t be going back to school. It was closed for the rest of the year. In fact, her whole family had to stay home. Ava felt confused and sad.

Do Ava’s feelings sound familiar? Something similar happened to kids in every U.S. state. They spent the end of the 2019-2020 school year at home. The reason was a pandemic. It was caused by a new coronavirus. The virus was first detected in China in December 2019. It quickly spread around the globe. Millions of people were infected. More than 500,000 people died.

Officials tried to stop the spread of the virus in the U.S. They closed schools and many businesses. People were ordered to stay home. They had to wear a face covering when in public and keep at least 1.8 meters (6 feet) apart. The crisis has caused a lot of stress in both children and adults. But kids like Ava have found ways to stay strong. “There’s light at the end of the tunnel,” Ava says.

What a Feeling

Stress is a normal part of life. A challenge, like a music recital, can cause stress. Events that change your routine or create uncertainty, like missing the school bus, can also be stressful. “Stress tells us there is a threat and we need to do something about it,” says Hilit Kletter. She’s a psychologist at Stanford University in California.

When you’re stressed, your brain sends signals to glands located on your kidneys. The glands release chemicals into your blood that cause your muscles to tense and your heart and breathing to speed up. 

Stress is a normal part of life. A challenge, like a music recital, can cause stress. The same goes for events that change how you usually do something. For example, missing the school bus can cause stress. “Stress tells us there is a threat, and we need to do something about it,” says Hilit Kletter. She’s a psychologist. She works at Stanford University in California.

Your brain reacts when you’re stressed. It sends signals to glands on your kidneys. The glands release chemicals into your blood. They cause your muscles to tense. They also cause your heart and breathing to speed up. 

These physical changes, together known as the fight-or-flight response, prepare you to either face a threat or run away (see Fight or Flight?). Stress can help boost your energy before a sporting event or a test. But too much stress can lead to anxiety. It can disrupt sleep and eating habits and cause other health problems. 

The pandemic has been stressful for many reasons, says Kletter. Some kids have loved ones who got sick. Ava sometimes worried that she had the virus. She has a pollen allergy that leads her to cough and sneeze—some of the same symptoms caused by the virus. 

Being cooped up at home can also increase stress. Bryce and Olivia Martino, 10-year-old twins in Bridgewater, New Jersey, were in separate classes in school. But during the pandemic, they were together all the time. As a result, they bickered much more often.

These changes are known as the fight-or-flight response. It gets your body ready to either face a threat or run away (see Fight or Flight?). Stress can help boost your energy before a sporting event or a test. But too much stress can lead to anxiety. It can upset sleep and eating habits. And it can cause other health problems. 

The pandemic has been stressful for many reasons, says Kletter. Some kids have loved ones who got sick. Ava sometimes worried that she had the virus. She has a pollen allergy. It makes her cough and sneeze. They’re some of the same symptoms caused by the virus. 

Being cooped up at home can also increase stress. Bryce Martino is 10 years old. He lives in Bridgewater, New Jersey. He has a twin sister, Olivia. They were in different classes at school. But they were together all the time during the pandemic. They argued much more often as a result.

Stress Busters

Stress can feel overwhelming. But several strategies can help people cope (see Stress Tips). Janine Domingues, a psychologist at the Child Mind Institute in New York City, teaches her young patients to relax their bodies by breathing in and out slowly. “That helps turn off the alarm bells in the brain,” she says. 

Bryce and Olivia coped by doing jumping jacks and lunges every morning. Exercise relaxes your body and floods your brain with feel-good chemicals. Plus, it’s a distraction that takes your mind off stressful thoughts. Ava danced to Taylor Swift as her exercise. She also distracted herself by getting lost in books like Harry Potter. “Reading takes you into a whole new world,” Ava says.  

Many kids felt stress from being isolated from friends and family. Samantha Barberio, an 8-year-old in Charlotte, North Carolina, talked to her grandma via video chat to feel less lonely. Sometimes they even cooked together! “We are social beings,” Domingues says. “Being connected to people helps us feel safe and secure.”

Stress can feel overwhelming. But there are ways to cope (see Stress Tips). Janine Domingues is a psychologist. She works at the Child Mind Institute. It’s in New York City. Here’s how Domingues teaches her young patients to relax. She has them breathe in and out slowly. “That helps turn off the alarm bells in the brain,” she says. 

Bryce and Olivia coped by being active. They did jumping jacks and lunges every morning. Exercise relaxes your body. It floods your brain with feel-good chemicals. Plus, it’s a distraction. It takes your mind off stressful thoughts. Ava danced to Taylor Swift as her exercise. She also got lost in books like the Harry Potter series. “Reading takes you into a whole new world,” Ava says.  

Many kids felt stress from not getting to be with friends and family. Samantha Barberio is 8 years old and lives in Charlotte, North Carolina. She talked to her grandma via video chat to feel less lonely. Sometimes, they even cooked together! “We are social beings,” Domingues says. “Being connected to people helps us feel safe and secure.”

Looking Ahead

Closing schools, shops, and offices helped slow down the spread of the virus. As of press time, state officials were still deciding whether to open schools in the fall. 

Living through a pandemic has been challenging. But kids like Ava say they have also learned something important—how to handle stress in any situation. “I’ll probably think back and say, ‘I survived a pandemic,’ ” Ava says. “ ‘That was the most stressful time in my life.’ ” If she managed that, she can do anything.

Closing schools, shops, and offices helped slow the spread of the virus. As of press time, state officials were still deciding whether to open schools in the fall. 

Living through a pandemic has been challenging. But kids like Ava say they have also learned to handle stress no matter the situation. Ava says, “I’ll probably think back and say, ‘I survived a pandemic. That was the most stressful time in my life.’” If she managed that, she can do anything.

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