Why do we need to talk about children’s mental health in the current crisis?
Ms.Nikita Jain (child psychologist) , Dr. Sugandha Gupta (Senior Consultant Psychiatrist).
The current scenario is indeed an unprecedented time for all of us. As all of us struggle with our own worries and anxieties, we forget that our children are really facing an enormous disruption to their lives too. Some of us might believe that with the schools being closed, no studies and the whole day to play – what more could the kids ask for?
But really, it’s not so. Read below to find out more:
Impact of COVID-19 crisis on children’s mental health-
Children are susceptible to confusion and fear and this can include the types of fears that are very similar to those experienced by adults, such as a fear of falling sick or dying, or a fear of losing their loved ones out of sickness or death due to this mysterious illness.
Besides major fears like this, even minor disruptions in their lives cause a great deal of stress and anxiety in children. Schools have closed as a part of necessary measures, therefore children no longer have that sense of structure and stimulation that is provided by that environment, and now they have less opportunity to be with their friends and get that social support that is essential for good mental well-being.
Young children need constant stimulation to maintain their energy levels and attention spans. Smaller houses also mean lesser space for outdoor play and other physical activities in the lockdown.
Elders trying to cope with their own anxieties during the lockdown may also communicate a sense of anxiety to the children.
Little children who are now unable to enjoy simple activities like going to their favorite restaurant or foregoing an ice cream may also lead to sadness besides being worried about the larger issues that the elders talk amongst themselves.
Constant reprimands for proper hand washing, maintaining hygiene may lead to irritability in children.
The kids finding their parents at home throughout the day just like on a holiday or vacation, might make them hope for more & most parents who are working from home might not be able to fit into their children’s expectations of spending great amount of time with them. Children may find that they want to be closer to their parents, make more demands on them, and, in turn, some parents or caregivers may be under undue pressure themselves.
Young children may find the changes that have taken place difficult to understand and both young and older children may express irritability and anger.
What are the Signs of Psychological distress in children ?
Not all children respond to stress in the same way. Some common changes to watch for include:
Excessive crying or irritation in younger children.
Reduced attention span
Returning to behaviors they have outgrown (for example, thumb sucking or bed wetting.
Excessive worry or sadness
Unhealthy eating or sleeping habits
Withdrawn behaviors like keeping quiet or keeping to themselves unlike previously.
Aggressive behavior manifesting in the use of abusive language/throwing-breaking household items.
Excessive demands and temper tantrums.
Somatic complaints such as unexplained headaches or body pain.
How can you as parents help your children cope with the psychological challenges/effects of COVID-19:
Take time to talk with your child about the COVID-19 outbreak
Most children will have heard about COVID-19, seen something on TV, or heard friends or teachers talk about the illness. Others may have overheard you talking about it. There is a lot of misinformation out there, so don’t assume that they know specifics about the situation or that the information they have is correct.
Answer questions and share facts about COVID-19 in a way that your child can understand. Explain that the germs causing COVID-19 are like ones that cause a cold. Remind them that these illnesses can spread easily, but that they can also be prevented, which is why we need to wash our hands, use tissues, and use sanitizers.
Kids thrive on routine:
Try to keep to daily schedules as typical as always, even if you are quarantined at home. If schools are closed, create a schedule for learning activities and relaxing or fun activities. Structure a day for your child that replicates a school day. Set them a timetable with start and end time, with breaks in between. Map out the learning they will be doing.
Get the creativity flowing:
Give your kids art supplies such as crayons, colored pencils, markers, or paints to create show pieces for your home. Put the artwork on your fridge or hang them around your house and host your very own art show. By involving your kids in art and craft, you’ll not only be helping them pass the time easily but you’ll also be giving wings to their creativity.
Have an amazing time exploring the world of books:.
Choose any book of interest. Read aloud or listen to an audio book. Discuss what has been read. Ask your child which character he liked, what was his/her favorite part of the book. This would help in developing critical thinking skills of the child.
Engage children in fun activities:
like finding differences in the two images, jigsaw puzzles or letter cancellations which would require children and parents to cross out specific letters in the newspaper in a given time span. Such activities would help in developing the attention skills of the child and at the same time act as family-bonding exercise.
Use media for social connection:
Social distancing can be isolating. If kids are missing their school friends or other family, try video chats or social media to stay in touch.
Try a new no flame cooking recipe:
make dinner as a family; find recipes and tips for cooking with children safely.
Engage in offline fun activities:
engage in activities that help family relax and communicate such as playing board games or uno/ludo?snakes and ladders or make your own board game.
We all know that children ask a lot of questions and as parents one can easily zone out ignoring the constant nagging sounds of “Mummy, mummy, muuummmmy!…look what I can…” (Daddies get it too), However, it is always important, but more so now during these time of uncertainty that our children feel heard, so practice active listening skills “Yes son/daughter, that’s great, I need to think about this, I’ll answer you when I’ve found out the answer”.
Lastly, let them know that they are ” Our Earth’s Superheroes ” as they follow the lockdown and help mankind defeat the enemy – coronavirus from within their homes!