Watch the replay of the event held on April 19, 2021. (Transcript below.)

Two leading child development experts will discuss the ongoing fallout and their visions for what’s ahead. How can parents understand if their kids’ behavior is “normal” when little is normal right now? Who’s most at risk, and how can they be protected? How can parents support their children — and themselves? If kids fall behind on developmental milestones or school, will they be able to catch up?

Join Knowable Magazine for a live conversation, and get your questions answered.


Photo of Ann Masten

Ann Masten

Regents Professor and Irving B. Harris Professor of Child Development, University of Minnesota Twin Cities

Ann Masten studies risk and resilience in child development, investigating young people who deal with homelessness, poverty, war, natural disasters and migration. Her work helps her identify factors or interventions that help children and families adapt to adversity. She is director of the Project Competence Research on Risk and Resilience (PCR3) and also codirects the Homework Starts with Home Research Partnership, a collaborative effort that guides policy and practice toward the goal of ending student homelessness.

Photo of Cynthia Garcia Coll

Cynthia García Coll

Professor Emerita, Brown University, and Adjunct Professor at University of Puerto Rico Medical School

Cynthia García Coll studies how social and cultural factors influence child and adolescent development, focusing on at-risk and minority populations. Her expertise includes immigrant youths, ethnic minority children and bilingualism. Her career has focused on the championing of ethnic and racial minority youth development, with an emphasis on de‐pathologizing children’s lives, aiming to understand their development in contextualized, resilient ways. Her model placing discrimination and public policy at the forefront of shaping minority youth development is proving extremely relevant and timely. Based in Puerto Rico, she can offer insights based on her observations during the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.


Photo of Amber Dance

Amber Dance

Freelance Science Journalist

Amber Dance is an award-winning science journalist and, as of 2020, part-time Zoom-school teacher’s aide for a 7-year-old. Following a doctorate in biology at the University of California, San Diego, she earned a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz. With more than a decade of experience in science writing, she has covered a variety of topics, including several aspects of the Covid-19 crisis for Knowable


More from Knowable Magazine

Related Annual Reviews articles


This event is part of Reset: The Science of Crisis & Recovery, an ongoing series of live events and science journalism exploring how the world is navigating the coronavirus pandemic, its consequences and the way forward. 

Reset is supported by a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Knowable Magazine is a product of Annual Reviews, a nonprofit publisher dedicated to synthesizing and integrating knowledge for the progress of science and the benefit of society. Major funding for Knowable comes from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


Richard Gallagher: “Hello there, and welcome to today’s event, titled ‘Effects of the pandemic on the developing child.’ I’m Richard Gallagher, publisher of Knowable Magazine from Annual Reviews and the president and editor in chief of Annual Reviews. This is the eighth Reset event, our series of conversations about the pandemic, its consequences, and the way forward. I’m delighted to introduce our moderator, Amber Dance, who will present the panelists. Amber is a freelance journalist and a regular contributor to Knowable Magazine. Today, she’s leading the discussion on a topic that many people are concerned about, namely, how kids have fared during the year of Covid and what impact it may have on their futures. Over to you, Amber. I’m really looking forward to the conversation today.”

Amber Dance: “Thank you, Richard. Hello everybody. I am not only a science journalist, I’m also a parent, as I imagine many of our listeners are. So we’ve all spent the last year trying to figure out how to keep our families safe without completely stunting our children’s social development, or how to keep them focused as online school just keeps going on and on, or just how to stay sane ourselves with everything that’s going on and support our families. And for many of us, that’s the basic fallout from the lockdown. But for some families, it’s so much worse. There’s illness, layoffs, hunger, poverty, deaths. I mean, this is a lot for our children, for anyone, to handle. So over the next hour, we’re going to talk about what children are facing and how it can impact their growth and the development of their bodies and their minds. We’ll also consider what to expect as things really seem to be getting better, as restrictions are lifted, as schools are opening across the country, and we’re all feeling hopefully a little bit safer.

“This discussion grew out of a piece I did for Knowable last fall when I had the chance to ask an expert about my concerns. I spoke with Ann Masten, who’s joining us today. She’s a developmental psychologist at the University of Minnesota. Ann is an expert in what’s called resilience science. This is the study of how people adapt to challenges and – good news – quite often, we recover. She has studied young people dealing with all kinds of problems, from poverty to war. Also joining us today, we have Cynthia Garcia Coll, a professor at the University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine. She studies how society and culture affect child development, particularly with kids who are minorities or at risk, like immigrant children. Where she’s living, she’s seen kids face just a series of disasters in Puerto Rico, starting with Hurricane Maria in 2017, going into a series of earthquakes at the end of 2019 into 2020, and then, of course, the pandemic we’re all facing.

“The goal for today is to ask, What does the science tell us about our kids’ futures? We’re going to get the discussion started. As we go, go ahead and add your questions to the questions box that’s going to be on the bottom right of your screen, and as we get toward the end of the discussion in the last 20 minutes, I’ll ask as many as we can fit in that we haven’t addressed already. Cynthia, Ann, thank you so much for joining us today to talk about our kids.”

Cynthia García Coll: “Thank you for having us.”

Ann Masten: “Yeah.”

Amber Dance: “As we get started, I wanted to just ask about the children in your own lives and how you’ve seen them and their families faring. Ann, do you want to get us started?”

Ann Masten: “Sure. Well, I have three grandchildren, and they’ve all reacted differently, but it’s been difficult for all of them in different ways. They’re three, four and six, and I think that it’s been most difficult for my granddaughter who was in kindergarten when this all started, and has been struggling with distance learning for half of kindergarten and a lot of the time in first grade. She became more emotional. She did better when she could play with kids outside, but that’s tough in the winters we have here in Minnesota. But once school went back in person in her neighborhood, she’s been doing a lot better.”

Amber Dance: “I’ve seen the same with my son. When his school is open in person, everything just gets better. Cynthia, how about you?”

Cynthia García Coll: “I have two grandchildren, one in Puerto Rico. She’s only 17 months old, but we noticed that the parents and I were upset in the very beginning that she couldn’t socialize, not with adults nor with other kids of her age. And lately, as things have progressed, now we are taking her out more, doing more, other parents around, and you can see that she’s fascinated by people. It’s like this new discovery from being, sort of, her whole life pretty much indoors with her father and mother and myself. The other one lives in Vermont. She’s a four-and-a-half years old, and just like you were talking, she was delighted to be back at school and see her friends. That was a big, big transition for her.”

Amber Dance: “Yeah, yeah. It’s happening more and more, which is exciting and scary, depending on your perspective.”

Cynthia García Coll: “That’s right.”

Amber Dance: “Guys, we’re more than a year into this pandemic, and I feel like a lot of us, we’ve lost sight of what is normal for our children. So can you briefly remind us of what does the science tell us is normal in terms of children’s activities and development? Ann, you want to get us started with the milestones?”

Ann Masten: “Sure. Well, this varies a bit by culture, but all over the world, we have expectations for children at different ages that reflect what we think about normal development. But children all over the world, when they’re very young infants, we watch for them to form an attachment to their parent, to start interacting. Later on, we watch for them to start talking and walking and running, and we hope that they’ll start to control their behavior a little bit and listen to their parents. Then there are other important milestones as children go to childcare or go to school where we expect them to begin to learn something at school, to listen to the teacher, to get along with other children, and so on. And as you get older and older, there are more and more of these developmental tasks that give us a sense that things are progressing OK. A lot of the systems and activities that support normal development have been completely disrupted by the pandemic.”

Amber Dance: “Absolutely. Cynthia, what about just all our normal routines?”

Cynthia García Coll: “Well, I mean, humans love routines. I mean, we as adults love them and we thrive on them, and so do children. I mean, children like to be able to go from one to the other, and that gives them a sense of security in the world. It’s something that you know, it’s predictable, and that whole thing about routines was completely disrupted by all the changes that we’ve been going, from parents not being able to go to work or losing their jobs or whatever. But children in particularly, going to school or day care centers or having grandparents coming by or other significant others on Sundays and stuff like that, whatever it is. So the disruption on all of these daily routines are very important, are very important for us to think about, what is the impact of these changes in the developing child.”

Amber Dance: “Perfect. Now, Ann, when I first met you, resilience science was a new term to me, so can you give us a little introduction to ... How can we look at what happened in the past to inform what we expect from our kids today?”

Ann Masten: “Well, even though it was new for you, actually scientists have been studying resilience now for decades, trying to understand how it is that children overcome adversity to develop well and become healthy adults. Many different kinds of adversity have been studied to try to figure this out. People have studied kids who experience maltreatment or lived in an orphanage, children who’ve been exposed to war and natural disasters, and many other different situations in places all over the world. I think that the most relevant data for the pandemic, even though we haven’t had a situation like this in a century, are the many studies of mass trauma disasters and situations like conflict and war that disrupt everything all at the same time.

“We’ve learned from the study of recovery in those situations that kids will eventually do well as conditions are restored for normal development, and the impact of the pandemic, you would expect that it’s going to depend on the age of the child, of course, and also the experiences that they have. I mean, how has their family been affected? As you mentioned, some families have had a really rough time simply putting food on the table and taking care of their children or finding a place to stay. And children will also be affected by the loss and illness that they’re exposed to during the pandemic, by how long their schools were shut down. In our community, some schools kept going and others were shut down for a very long time.

“But what resilience scientists are interested in is what makes a difference, what helps kids get through these kinds of situations. And so we’ve learned over time that if you have enough of the protective factors in place that kids can manage to do very well. The resilience of the world around them matters, so for kids, kids depend on their families and how they’re doing, and their communities. And as conditions are restored and things are operating and we have some of those routines that Cynthia was talking about, kids can actually adapt pretty well. Some struggle, but often, those are kids who were already struggling beforehand.”

Amber Dance: “Thank you. Yeah, I found that very comforting when you explained it to me last fall. So let’s first talk about these kids who are relatively lucky, who haven’t dealt with a ton of illness and poverty and homelessness and so forth. We have all been trapped inside, glued to screens like this for a year and change.”

Cynthia García Coll: “Wow.”

Amber Dance: “Are there any specific or important worries you have about children’s physical health, development, mental or physical, right now? Cynthia, when we have all those routines and activities disrupted, what kind of impacts are we concerned about?”

Cynthia García Coll: “Oh, absolutely. I mean, you mentioned the physical. I know kids who are high-endurance athletes who have not been able to practice, people who were going to championships and stuff like that. So I’m thinking a lot about teenagers right now. I know that both Ann and I are very much into the early years, but I would like to think about teenagers. And in those activities, those physical activities, there’s a social component to it. So you’re not being able to go out and play, you’re not being able to go out and do your exercise or your particular kind of sport really also curtails the relationships. And I think that my main worry right now is the loss of social contact. For children at the very different stages, they play, the social relationship plays as sort of a block for their development, and it’s hard to think that we need to really acknowledge with the children about the losses, about the losses of not being able to be in contact with their friends or playing with their friends or anybody in the neighborhood or anything like that. That social relation is a very important part of children’s development pretty much at any age.”

Amber Dance: “I want to pop in a user question here. Jackie had asked a really interesting question that relates to this, that we have very young children like your grandkid, Cynthia, who they’ve barely ever seen anyone’s face without a mask.”

Cynthia García Coll: “That’s right.”

Amber Dance: “They’re not getting those social cues, the smiles.”

Cynthia García Coll: “Interesting.”

Amber Dance: “Are they going to be able to pick this up later on, or are they sort of missing the window when their brain is ready to learn that? What are your thoughts there?”

Cynthia García Coll: “That is a great question. I mean, a lot of our communication is actually through our eyes, so eye contact is a major way of communicating. You see that when the kids are looking at faces for the first time. They really lock into the eyes a lot. So I think that ... what I’ve seen, for example, with my grandchild, is that she knows when I put my mask and she knows when I take it down, and now she’s used to it. At the very beginning, she was looking at me like, “Is this the same person?” But then after a while, they get used to it. I mean, that’s what’s the beauty of development, is that we’re sort of designed to be social and designed to take whatever input comes from the environment. And so I’ve seen her much more at ease now with anybody who has a mask, which was a completely different experience for her early on.”

Amber Dance: “That’s interesting. I’ve definitely noticed I see kids who are so much better with the masks than half the adults that I see.”

Cynthia Garcia Coll: “Absolutely.”

Amber Dance: “Ann, let’s talk about screen time. I know you have kind of a nuanced view, because before, we were always being told, ‘Oh, screen time is bad. Don’t let your kids sit in front of the TV.’ So what does research tell us now about the pros and the cons?”

Ann Masten: “Well, I don’t think we have a whole lot of research as yet on screens during the pandemic, but I find it kind of ironic that we were all very, very focused on too much screen time beforehand, and yet during the pandemic, the availability of screens has made life bearable. We’ve been able to conduct school online through screens, we’ve been focused on entertainment. Many of the people I know haven’t watched as many screens for entertainment in their whole life as they did during the past year. And also for adolescents, it’s been an important tool for staying in touch with their friends, and for all of us. I mean, we’ve been able to socialize. It’s not ideal, but to be able to see ... I have one grandchild far away I haven’t been able to see in person for a long time, and screens have made it possible to stay in touch.

“We’ve also been able to have some kind of ceremonies. One of the big losses during the pandemic has been the loss of celebrations and important ceremonies, both for life and for death. Although it’s certainly not optimal, the fact that we can carry on with some of our most important rituals of life and gather socially online for all ages to learn, to teach, to be with other people has been really important.

“I think it’s important to keep in mind that screens are a tool. Like other human tools, they can be used for good and bad purposes. Right now, I think that I would consider the trade-offs. I know many pediatricians are worried about kids who are gaining weight because they’re inactive, so that would be a screen problem. It’s not the screen, per se. It’s that you’re not out there active and playing. And as Cynthia was mentioning, a lot of kids do a lot of running around and sports and things outside, and a lot of that’s been curtailed. That can have some impacts on your health, especially if you’re sitting around snacking while you’re watching your screens.”

Ann Masten: “So certainly, there are some issues. But thank goodness we did have screens over the past year, because I think life would have been more difficult without them.”

Cynthia García Coll: “Absolutely.”

Amber Dance: “Yeah. We can be grateful that we can all connect at least like this. So let’s talk about emotions. I’m sure each child is going to respond in their own unique way, but based on past studies, signs of kids struggling: What would be sort of a typical reaction to lockdown that parents might see, or what might be kind of a red flag for parents to realize, like, ‘Maybe we should seek some additional assistance’? Cynthia, do you want to start us off there?”

Cynthia García Coll: “Sure. Sure. Again, I’m thinking about the adolescents because I’ve been hearing a lot about adolescents having a really hard time, and actually, young adults too. The red flags would be, is your child really not in contact with anybody socially? I mean, right now, we have all the different screen times as Ann was saying, and all those platforms that we can get. But is your child more isolated than he or she used to be? Is your child showing any signs of depression or sadness or non-interaction, much more than ... I mean, some kids ... and especially during adolescence ... don’t want to be with their parents and now they’re 24-7 with their parents, and so how does that going to work out?

“But the question is, are they more than usual staying within themselves and are they more isolated than they were before, and how can we deal with that? I’ve made referrals right now to friends of mine that are psychologists and psychiatrists of kids that the parents are all of a sudden uncomfortable. I think that for smaller ones, it’s the notion you can have ... excuse me ... some sort of sign of aggression or destruction of things, throwing things, that there’s a sense of frustration with what’s going on.”

Amber Dance: “Thank you. Ann, what do you want to add? What have you seen in children stressed in other situations and where would you kind of draw the line between ‘Yeah, that’s how we react’ versus, ‘OK, we need some additional counseling’?”

Ann Masten: “Right. Yeah, that’s going to depend a lot on the individual child, and parents know their children the best, kind of what’s unusual. It’s very typical in what we know about disasters and other stressful situations ... it’s common for children to become more anxious. For younger kids, parents may notice it in terms of difficulty with sleeping or separating from their parents and wanting to kind of be close by all the time. Or kids may get more irritable, more emotional, that sort of thing. But I would concur with a lot of what Cynthia said, that my concerns would be when you see persistent isolation or sadness or kids acting like they’ve given up hope that things are going to get better, or they’re talking about life not being worth living, that requires parents to take some action.”

Amber Dance: “Thank you. Many of our children, they have spent months doing their school from home, which is great for some kids, but for some, very poor results, or we have kids who are not even showing up. Has there been anything like this that’s happened before, and what are you thinking in terms of long-term educational consequences for this generation that’s had this gap? Ann, do you want to take us there first?”

Ann Masten: “Sure. Sure. Well, we have not had something on this scale, a global scale like this where we have so many kids around the world missing out on their education. But it’s not uncommon after, for example, a major disaster like a flood or after Hurricane Katrina or a tsunami, something like that. It’s not uncommon for school to be out of session for a while.”

Cynthia García Coll: “Disrupted.”

Ann Masten: “Yeah, disrupted in various ways. And yet what we’ve learned is that kids ... if you make an effort to help kids catch up, they can recover. But this is an unprecedented length of time for many children, and I think what we need to do is invest in more educational opportunities, more enrichment activities. I think we’re probably going to need more tutoring, more summer school. And I’m hoping that the rescue plans in this country and actions taken in other country to really boost the resources for children will make it possible for kids to fill in the gaps.”

Amber Dance: “Cynthia, how about you?”

Cynthia García Coll: “Well, absolutely agree totally with Ann in terms of that we need to be foreseeing when kids come back to school that it should not be school as usual, that there should be all sort of these protective factors created. For example, discussion groups about how was it to be away for older kids, sort of emotional, I mean, monitoring the emotional life of kids in schools. And I’m particularly worried about kids who have special needs in schools. We have an alarming number of kids in the autistic spectrum, the other learning disabilities, ADHD and all of these things, that it’s just not opening schools back at the usual. It’s opening schools back thinking about all of these individual differences and all these needs, physical, emotional and social, all in the way of learning. So really thinking that this has been a year off or a different year, and we need to come up with ways of thinking about how we’re going to support kids in catching up and moving on from the pandemic.”

Amber Dance: “Right. Because school is so much more than just your ABCs. Let’s move into the next section. Children whose biggest problems has been not as many play dates, not as great school, I mean, they’re kind of getting off easy. We have so many children who’ve dealt with much more severe stresses. I know Cynthia, you’ve been looking lately at what’s going on in communities that are Black, Indigenous, people of color. What are you seeing there?”

Cynthia García Coll: “I’m seeing that the impact of the pandemia is way more than what we’ve been talking about. We’re dealing with death of relatives, because all of these populations are overrepresented in getting Covid, in being hospitalized from Covid, and in dying from Covid. They’re overrepresented also in losing their jobs and not being able to work from home. All of these are statistics that are there that are showing us that these particular populations are way over-banged by this experience. And so yes, all of this needs that we were talking about to now are sort of exacerbated for these particular groups. Those of us who are speaking about this are saying this is global. This is not only in the US. I mean, the UN right now is talking about the poverty rates exponentially growing right now. We’ve talked about also domestic violence on the rise. I mean, there are a lot more complications and a lot more negative effects of the pandemia on these groups.”

Amber Dance: “Do you foresee more long-term consequences for kids who’ve been in these kind of families, Cynthia?”

Cynthia García Coll: “Mm-hmm. Oh, absolutely. As Ann was saying, this notion of risk and resilience is very much ... These are at-risk populations, so we have to be thinking about what protective factors can we create for this population so these kids can recover. Recovery is there. The potential for recovering is in all of us. The question is, is the society is there prepared to support these families, to think about income or job replacement, housing ... because we stopped this notion that there can be no ... there can evictions from now on. This is going to be a major part of what’s going on in these kids’ life. So the question is, are we willing ... schools, families, health care centers, neighborhood, public policy ... are we going to be there to be able to provide with the protective factors that these families and children need?”

Amber Dance: “And Ann, what concerns do you have about long-term consequences of children whose families have really gone through quite a bit of trauma? Are we going to see PTSD? Is this going to still be impacting them when they’re 18, 28, 48, especially as far as their brain development? What might you expect, based on what we’ve seen from wars and other disasters?”

Ann Masten: “Well, as I mentioned before, it’s going to depend a lot on where children and families were starting from. I think what’s been illuminated by the pandemic is who was already vulnerable. There are already remarkable disparities globally as well as within the United States in the risk factors, the adversities. There are learning disparities, there are disparities in housing, homelessness, health care, and we’ve seen the consequences of those disparities because during the pandemic, they’ve been exacerbated. As Cynthia was saying, I mean, the pandemic has had in many ways a much deeper effect on people of color or more disadvantaged people around the world. We know that that vulnerability, combined with a piling on of adversity ... for example, having more illness and loss among people of color in the United States ... that that could have long-term consequences.

“If you’ve lost many members of your family, then how a child is going to do is going to depend on how well the care and support can be restored. And I think that we know that severe stress can take a toll, especially when it occurs early, at a deep level on brain development and how our stress systems get organized. But we also know that if we really try to compensate and to put into place protective systems for kids that we can make a difference. We know from the disaster literature that the quality of the recovery environment really matters. So what we do now and going forward does make a difference. We can provide more resources, more protections for the kids who are coming out of this really affected because they’ve had a greater burden and fewer supports. We should be aware of that now and we can take action to try to make a difference.”

Amber Dance: “Can you give me a little more specifics from the research? I mean, you and I talked before about how this field of resilience kind of got started in the wake of World War II when you had, number one, children who had been in concentration camps or lost families, and also children who had been taken away from their families in London during the Blitz and sent away as far as the US, removed from their parental support. What did researchers see in those kids and what did they come up with that helped them?”

Ann Masten: “Well, they realized from the very beginning that the most important influence on resilience is your relationships with people, your family, your parents, your caregivers, having supportive adults around you. If you lose your family, then there has to be replacement. There have to be people who take you in and take care of you and so forth. And for older kids, the relationships also are with your friends, and you can see that teenagers are profoundly affected by being able to continue to have relationships with their friends. Social support is the most important protective factor for human beings across the whole lifespan. It just changes in nature from caregiving when children are young to friends and romantic partners and other people as they get older.

“But another important protective factor is hope, and parents and teachers and all of us can play a role in giving kids a sense of hope that things will get better, that people are working to solve this problem. Scientists are inventing vaccines and people are trying to make things better and help out. Also, another big one is belonging, having a sense of belonging. That’s one of the roles that not only families play, but also schools and communities. I mean, kids get a very important sense of belonging and security, as Cynthia was mentioning, from the routine activities that they do. But having a sense of belonging is really important, and it gives you a sense that life is good and meaningful.

“Another big protective factor is self-control, and this is one where ... Sometimes, especially young children or teenagers who are getting a little bit more into risk-taking, being able to control their emotions ... it’s natural to get irritated or frustrated with a lot of the things that have been going on in the pandemic, but being able to maintain control is important. That’s one of the functions that routines and activities like sports can help kids, getting out there, family activities can help kids, and so forth. So I mean, there are a lot of protective factors, but I think those are many of the most important ones that kind of keep a sense of hope, belonging and connectedness going that’s really important.”

Amber Dance: “Thank you, yeah. And that is leading us nicely into the resilience issue, how we can help our kids bounce back, or at least climb back, from what we’ve all been through. Cynthia, with everything that’s gone on in Puerto Rico the past few years ...”

Cynthia García Coll: “Oh dear.”

Amber Dance: “... what have you seen in kids, and have you seen evidence of this kind of resilience?”

Cynthia García Coll: “Oh yes. I mean, one of the things that was amazing to be here during Maria ... We were without electricity and water for about ... some of us up to a year or year and a half, and then we had the earthquakes, and now we have the pandemia. One of the most amazing things about human beings is their survival strategies and their resilience. I saw communities getting together, young children and children of all ages working alongside family members. At the very beginning, it was just getting all the stuff out of the roads so we could get out of our houses, but then later on, building projects together.

“So I think this notion that Ann was saying, this notion of belonging but having also a sense of purpose ... of community purpose, of group purpose ... and really thinking about schools and churches and community centers as places when as we lift up our restrictions, we create projects that bring about this sense of purpose into the future, that we’re doing something, that not everything is going to come from the government to a certain extent, but that we have the agency to create what we need. I saw amazing examples of farms being created by people together, of organizations creating activities for kids where they could paint and talk about their losses and talk about everything that had been going on. And really, I’m thinking about the schools as a major part of this effort of bringing kids forward to think about, again, as you said, that it’s not only the ABCs, but it’s really thinking about all the losses and how we’re going to move forward. That purpose, that community purpose, that group effort that we can all make.”

Amber Dance: “Which can then give us all hope, as Ann said. So schools across the country ... I mean, we’re seeing a lot of news of schools reopening, kids going back. Some of us think, ‘Yes, finally,’ and some of us really nervous about the risk that is this virus is still going around. What can we expect? For parents who are sending their kids off with their backpacks for the first time in more than a year, how are kids going to be feeling about that and what can parents do to support children with that transition and all that comes with us? Ann, what are your thoughts?”

Ann Masten: “Well, one thought ... to follow up on the hope and sense of belonging ... I think we can be optimistic and emphasize the positive that, ‘You’ll get to go to school and see your friends and do some activities there.’ So I think that’s important. And in some ways, it’ll be like the beginning of the school year for a lot of kids. They’ve been out long enough that it’s even longer than a summer type of break. But I think it’s going to vary. Some kids like being at home. They like the distance learning. Down the road, we may see that more schools give some flexibility to kids who prefer to learn that way. But I think a lot of kids, from what I’ve seen around here as school started up, they’ve been pretty positive about going back to school, mainly to be with other kids and get a chance to interact.”

Amber Dance: “Thank you. Cynthia, you want to add anything to that? And then we’ll get into some questions from the audience.”

Cynthia García Coll: “That there should be a public campaign about what are the conditions where kids are going to be safe from the Covid, and really talk about that many of us have already the second vaccine, the school personnel should be having the second vaccine, that there is going to be all of this care being taken so that kids are not only social, emotionally happy, but also physically taken care of. And I know that there’s a lot of communities that are very much very worried about going back to school because of all these fears about infection and all the experiences that they’ve had. I think that schools have to be very open about what they’re doing and really reassuring parents that all conditions are being created for the safety of their children.”

Amber Dance: “And I imagine many older children would need that reassurance too.”

Cynthia García Coll: “True. Absolutely.”

Amber Dance: “I’m looking at questions from Carol and Charlene. Carol works with children who are under three, so very young, and she’s seeing some fears of social play as kids come back. And Charlene is asking kind of a related question. How can we as parents, as educators, whoever, help children develop their interpersonal skills as they try to build friendships either as they’re physically distant or as we start to get back to being a little less distant? Are we going to see kids who are just shy and anxious, and what can we do about that?”

Cynthia García Coll: “Yeah, I would imagine that we’re going to see kids shy and anxious. Absolutely. I mean, that’s very much an individual temperament dimension that is there. But kids are really very much into what I would call the slow to warm up, no? That’s what it is. They’re slowly to warm up. We don’t need to worry about kids who are that shy at the very beginning because I think it’s natural to think about the new social condition. And kids love to play, and I think that play and games and organized activities, allowing kids who are not ready to move on, to do it on the side. But really, organized activities that are supporting maybe a one-to-one at the very beginning and then there’s two-on-two and then there’s five of them. But really think about that play, and I’m thinking about sports as play, that that’s a way of really thinking about that chill childhood activity that really brings kids together. So I’m very optimistic that kids are going to re-bounce back with the right conditions that we’ve been saying.”

Amber Dance: “Ann, what would you like to add there?”

Ann Masten: “I would just say that I think for some kids, if they’re kind of shy or nervous about things, that it may have to just be a gradual transition where parents structure some play dates and hang out a little more than they would ordinarily so that ... As Cynthia was saying, you start off small, and then I think that the fun of play will begin to take over. But kids will have different ... Different kinds of play will be appealing to different children. But I think that there’s so much strong motivation for kids to play with each other that if you make the conditions kind of step-by-step, that most kids will make a good transition.”

Amber Dance: “Yeah, I like that sort of practical tip and I think more listeners are wanting to hear those really practical tips, some of which, Ann, you and I discussed before, about how to encourage resilience, how to make the environment the best it can be. What can parents do tonight or next week just to incorporate into their routines really practical stuff that can give their children the best jumping off point to be resilient?”

Ann Masten: “Well, fortunately, I think that building resilience in children is a lot like just raising children, that as we ... Just parenting, or if you’re a teacher, teaching, that doing a good job as a parent or teacher is going to naturally build the resilience of kids. Because if you have a good relationship with your children and foster that, you will provide ...”

Amber Dance: “Ann, why don’t you just sum up the points you made about real, practical things that we can do to promote resilience, even little things like having an online birthday party or whatever.”

Ann Masten: “Right. Well, I think right now, it’s important that we make an effort to keep routines going, to spend time together, to make it possible for our kids to play with other children. And I also think it’s important to give our kids a chance to figure out what to do on their own. It’s important that kids learn how to handle some challenges too. We don’t want to protect them all the time. Kids learn, and they also learn from having to figure out fun activities for themselves. One of the silver linings I’ve observed in children around my neighborhood is that they’re doing a lot more creative play outside on their own during the pandemic because there aren’t as many structured activities. So there’s been a lot more casual interaction at the playground, and in some ways, that can be very good for children to have to invent their own play and get a chance to learn from that.

“I think that parents also can listen to their children and talk to them if kids are worried about different things that come up. We are in a very serious pandemic that has caused all kinds of problems, so there are many opportunities to talk in a age-appropriate way and listen to kids and reassure them. But I think a lot of what we do as parents naturally to stay connected to our children, to interact with them, just to keep an eye on how things are going is a lot of what makes a difference during a difficult time like this.”

Amber Dance: “Before, Cynthia, you make your statement, I just want to remind people that we’ve still got about eight minutes left to ask any burning questions you have of these two great developmental psychologists here, so do go ahead and add those in your lower right window. Cynthia, go ahead. What can parents do now today to really help their kids?”

Cynthia García Coll: “... Ann said that we can overprotect and we can do harm by overprotecting. In our theories in human development and child development, we talked about crisis as opportunities also. We talk about stress as something ... I mean, stress is there for a reason. Stress is there for a reason, to make the organism move and act and be able to be proactive. When stress is not good is when it’s toxic stress all the time, continuously without the protective factors that we have talked about. So let’s be sure that we also allow our kids to be creative about how to come up with coping with stress, because that’s a real valuable life lesson for all of us.”

“The only other thing I wanted to add was that in a certain way, we are in an unprecedented times that are asking us to be unprecedented parents, and I also want to be sure that parents receive the support that they need. Parents need support in all of this, but imagine in these particular times, I think that’s getting that support for yourself, because the better you do with the situation, the better your kids will do, and I think that’s important.”

Amber Dance: “I think that’s really good advice that may be hard for some of us to implement right now. We have a question from Blanca about, what about when a child has lost their parents or even anyone close to them? What specific things can the people in their lives do to support them when they’ve lost what, Ann, as you said, is kind of the bulwark for resilience? Do you have specific suggestions that people can do?”

Ann Masten: “... that the people step in to the roles of parenting and caregiving and providing a sense of security and emotional support to the child. That is perhaps the greatest danger for children, is losing important people in their lives. So others have to step in to that breach and try to restore as much of a normal life as possible while allowing a child to grieve and supporting a normal grief process.”

Cynthia García Coll: “I think the grieving process is important, and it’s not something that it’s done in two weeks or three months or anything else, that we allow ... And sometimes rituals are very good for that, and I know that the rituals have been hard, but I’ve been to celebrations of life online. We’ve been quite creative trying to maintain these rituals where we get together and we talk about the person and we cry together and we mourn together. That emotional connection really helps us all heal, to a certain extent.”

Amber Dance: “OK, great. Question from Nishan. Do you think with all this lockdown, all this distancing, all this isolation, would there be an impact on emotions like empathy? Are children going to end up numbed? Will they figure it out later? Cynthia, what do you think about that?”

Cynthia García Coll: “Kids are amazing, how quickly they learn, especially in the early years. I’m always very optimistic that if you provide the environment, again, with all of these notions of what we need to provide ... that may be empathy, again, emotional negotiation. I mean, that sort of give-and-take between friends and give-and-take between kids, that all of these things might need a little bit more input and a little bit more thinking from the adults around the kids to be fostered. But that then immediately kids get into, again, the routines and the ways of interactions and the rules, learning the rules again about engagement, the social rules about how do we support or we tolerate each other. Kids are going to pick them up. But again, we need to think about that the environments are going to need to maybe jump-start these processes again or remind them again or really build ways during the daily routines that these processes of social interactions are going to emphasize again in terms of the kids’ development.”

Amber Dance: “Ann, before you take that, I want to add another question that’s kind of related. Can a child’s socio-emotional development be addressed in the online learning environment, either with just online school, or are there computer programs that can teach this social thinking? Or do we just throw kids back in and figure, ‘Eh, they’ll figure it out’?

Ann Masten: “Well, now, that’s a double steps here. I wanted to add, in terms of empathy, I think that disasters and any kind of crisis offers important opportunities to learn about empathy because we’re all dealing with difficult issues. And I think it’s a time where it’s very important for parents to talk about kindness to others. I’ve observed a lot of proactive kindness by kids in the neighborhood, by teachers. They have reached out to make little things for people they can’t see, to draw pictures on the sidewalk when they weren’t able to interact with each other. We know from the research and observations following disasters that enlisting children to help is a very powerful recovery tool, that kids enjoy helping. It gives them a sense of belonging and agency, but it also, I think, supports that learning and experience of empathy.

“It is hard for me to imagine that there are great substitutes for in-person interpersonal interactions, but I think that the more that we encourage our kids to stay in touch with their friends and relatives and practice little ceremonies and rituals, those serve a purpose because they show our thoughtfulness and kids learn that there are important ways in which you can be sensitive to other people and help them. But when parents talk about another person’s point of view ... if a child has a conflict or they hear something about another child, it’s an opportunity. There are many learning opportunities just in ordinary day-to-day interaction, I think, that help with empathy.

“But fortunately, we have kind of the global treasure of Sesame Workshop. I think they do a nice job with their young children in helping children to learn about the social needs of others, take other people’s perspectives. They’ve put out amazing materials for kids on all kinds of difficult situations, kids who are refugees, kids who are dealing with the pandemic. So some of the material online is quite good for young children learning about empathy. I think that older kids that ... Engaging them in rituals, engaging them in activities to help other people is a very powerful way for kids to learn.”

Amber Dance: “Also, he really likes Daniel Tiger. A lot of social tips in there, so thank you, PBS. I want to get to one more audience question because I think it’s a really good one from Virgie ... and apologies to those who I couldn’t get to. Many parents are still worried about sending their kids back to school now, or even next year, and so there are parents, especially with the preschool age, they may decide not to send their kids to kindergarten as that is ... I mean, I know around here, it’s actually not required, it’s optional, and they’re replacing that with home teaching. But at the same time, Virgie points out, we all know how important the stimulus and social interactions of kindergarten is for really setting kids up for success long term. Do you have any thoughts on how parents can weigh this decision of sending their kids to school or keeping them home going forward?”

Cynthia García Coll: “The question is that they are afraid that they’re going to get Covid? And again, that’s ...”

Amber Dance: “I think so, yeah.”

Cynthia García Coll: “I think so too. And again, I think ...”

Amber Dance: “They are concerned.”

Cynthia García Coll: “Yeah, and it’s a fair concern and I think that schools have a burden right now to prove to parents that they are providing all the conditions. Remember that kids are one of the least risk groups for getting Covid. And yes, there’s been death, and yes, there’s been disability and everything else, but the statistics right now worldwide are that children have very active immune systems and that to a certain extent, they are very much not protected, but they need to be exposed, I guess, to the virus a lot more than we do to get it. So I think the burden on that one is on the schools to be able to provide all the scientific data that we know right now on how kids get Covid and what are the conditions within schools.

“There’s been studies that have shown worldwide what are the conditions that you need to have within schools to be able to protect our kids. Because I think it’s important for kids to get back to school. I think that it’s a really important part of their development and I think it’s necessary for all of us, all the adults, to provide the conditions, the safe conditions upon which they can come back.”

Amber Dance: “Ann, any thoughts on how parents can weigh that decision?”

Ann Masten: “Yeah. That’s a very important and individual kind of decision. Some parents may be afraid of their children getting Covid. Others may have other issues, that they have somebody very vulnerable at home who couldn’t be vaccinated or something like that. But we’ve always had parents who, for whatever reason, wanted to provide part of their children’s education at home, and there’s very good material on how to do that effectively, a lot of which involves a small learning pod or something like that. If children are learning at home, it’s going to be very important that there be other ways for them to get – even if it’s small-scale – social  interaction with other children. Some families have kind of like a tiny school in their home. Other families go out of their way to create social opportunities for their children. In the United States, there’s certainly been a homeschooling movement for a long time, and those families and those curricula have provided a lot of options for families.

“Like Cynthia, I’m a fan of going to school because I think it helps kids learn how to deal with the world. But there are circumstances where that might not be ideal or it might not be what parents can do, so there are other ways. But it’s important to make it possible for kids to have time interacting with other kids as well as the learning curriculum that you would expect kids to master at school.”

Amber Dance: “Absolutely. Well, hopefully, those decisions will get easier and easier as we go forward. We’re going to wrap things up. I want to give each of you a chance to just give us a final thought on the real question that’s on all of our minds. Will our kids be all right? Cynthia?”

Cynthia García Coll: “I think we both have said that within the right conditions, they will be all right. If we, the adults in these kids’ life, think about what their needs are, physical, emotional, cognitive, social, all of this, that we can really create the environments for them to recover and to really take over their own lives. So I’m optimistic that as a society, we organize ourselves to think about kids’ lives and kids’ needs. At this point after a year, they will do fine. Most of us will do fine. Most of the kids will be fine.”

Amber Dance: “Ann, your final thoughts?”

Ann Masten: “Yeah, I would agree. I’m optimistic and I think there’s good reason to be optimistic based on the research that’s been done on recovery after even horrible calamities. And I think it’s important to remember though that kids don’t make it on their own. They depend on families, they depend on communities, they depend on health care systems, and all of us and our policymakers supporting the conditions that make it possible for communities to support families and schools to support children and families to support children. Children need the resilience of the world around them to support their own resilience.”

Amber Dance: “Thank you. Thank you. Great point to end on. That is the end of our time. Thanks to both of you and everyone who listened in on this event. I hope it was an illuminating discussion. If you enjoyed this event, please consider making a donation to Knowable Magazine to help them meet the mission to make high-quality science coverage free to everyone. You can do so at Thank you also to the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation for their wonderful support of Knowable Magazine. This conversation will be posted on the Knowable website free to view and share. Just look for the Reset collection. You can also find tons of other links to articles about this topic and other pandemic-related information.”

“This webinar was part of a series of discussions. Coming up next is going to be Keys to successful aging on May 6, and on May 26, Monitoring our health with smartwatches. To keep up with the schedule and everything Knowable, sign up for the weekly newsletter, Thanks again everyone for joining us, and goodbye.”