“You will be pleased to know that we do consider both the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny to be essential workers,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern declared during a press conference this week.
The Premiers of Ontario and Quebec quickly followed Ardern’s lead, reassuring children in their provinces who are looking forward to egg hunts this weekend and cash rewards for their next missing tooth.
Every child has the right to a childhood. Yet, for many kids their worries go beyond candy or some pocket change.
COVID-19 has upended the lives of children and families across the world. More than half the planet’s children are now out of school because of the pandemic. Physical distancing is disrupting their routines and support systems. Kids are anxious and many do not understand why they are not allowed to play street hockey with their friends or visit their grandparents.
It is a tough time to be a kid.
Prior to the pandemic, only 55 per cent of children in Canada reported a high level of life satisfaction and 27 per cent reported feeling sad or hopeless for long periods. Now calls to Kids Help Phone are spiking from kids confined at home. Volume has tripled in recent weeks. Children and youth are experiencing intensified levels of anxiety.
Given that a fifth of children feel under time pressure and a quarter say they are overwhelmed with schoolwork on a normal day, kids right now have a chance to rediscover unstructured play. They need more opportunities to have fun and to be kids, even in the midst of a global pandemic.
With enough support from governments and communities to ease the burdens on families, most children will recover. This will be more difficult for children who are experiencing heightened threats to their rights and protection.
According to the Canadian Index of Child and Youth Well-being, a quarter of young people have experienced violence at home before the age of 15.
Unfortunately, the greatest risk of violence against children comes from the people that should be protecting them – family and other familiar relationships. School, extracurricular activities and child-safe spaces are escapes for these kids. Staying home may protect them from the virus but it will leave them more vulnerable than ever to violence.
As the pandemic wears on, it is not just the Easter Bunny who must be declared an essential service. Children need child protection workers and safe community spaces – these should be the first to emerge from lockdown, in every part of Canada.
In the meantime, children have the right to imagine how the Easter Bunny gets to everyone’s houses in a single day or how the Tooth Fairy knows when they’ve lost a tooth.
Thank you to our leaders and community services who recognize the importance of a childhood for every child and are helping many of Canada’s families and young people through the crisis.
Thank you to the parents who are doing their best – it is more than good enough.
Thank you to the young people, whose courage is shining through this pandemic.
To thank them, let's let them just be kids this weekend.