Impact of Covid 19 on the mental health of Children and ways to protect it
Created by Shikha Batra Updated on Dec 03, 2020
What is going to be its impact on us and our near and dear ones?
How long will it last?
When will schools reopen?
Will life ever get back to normalcy?
These days such questions are hovering in the minds of younger and older individuals alike and unfortunately, none of us have the exact answers to them including the scientists, experts from medical and other fields. This uncertainty makes it all too easy to spiral out into overwhelming dread and panic among all people including children.
Fear, anxiety, worry are the buzzwords these days in the wake of unprecedented times we all are in, especially for children as they being most vulnerable are the worst hit. Fear of getting corona positive , fear of receiving medical treatment, fear of death of a family member or a relative, fear of the status quo as this crisis seems to be never ending- all these and many more of these negative thoughts can overpower their minds and take an emotional toll on them. The uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus is becoming too much to handle. What’s more challenging for children primarily is the lack of structure and stimulation associated with closing of schools. As a result of this they have less opportunity to be with their friends and receive that social support which is very important for their psychological as well as emotional well being.
Besides this, increased exposure to violence if their home is not a safe place to be, could be very challenging for some children who have to face such circumstances day in and day out. The unexpected imposed social distancing and moving to home based or online learning as a precautionary measure has caused enormous disruption of daily routines for the global community, especially children. This sudden halt to physical classes is posing a potential risk to their mental well-being.
“Of late my two children have suddenly become stubborn, irritable and throw tantrums and cry at the drop of a hat. Prior to lockdown they used to go to the park everyday where they would spend time with their friends, cycle, play on swings, meet new people. Whereas nowadays they are confined in a house and they are in the same place with the same people day in day out.” says Arohi, a mother to two children aged 7 and 5 years respectively.
The above mentioned anecdote is an example of changes in behaviour and impact on the mental health of children. Since the pandemic has forced the children to stay confined to their house, which means they can not go out to meet and play with their friends, this can impact their mental health too and cause symptoms like anxiety and irritability.
Mental illness can affect children at any point during their childhood. Among the several mental illnesses that could be prevalent during this phase, depression is one of the major leading causes of mental illness among children. Since the healthy daily routines of children have been disrupted due to the pandemic it can have a detrimental impact on their physical health besides affecting their mental health as it contributes to the additional stress and sleeping difficulties that many children face.
Some of the ways to protect the mental health of children amid pandemic would include:
Give structure to their day by establishing a fixed routine: The routine of children has gone haywire, courtesy COVID-19 pandemic. The very purpose of sending children to school for teaching discipline and following a schedule stands defeated due to physical classes being put to a halt indefinitely. Right now, their schedule is destructured and to balance this out parents need to form a structure by establishing routines which can be relaxed occasionally for instance on weekends.
Parents need to manage their own anxiety and stress: Children are very perceptive and will model how to respond to a situation including the crisis situation we are currently in from their caregivers. So self regulation of fears and anxiety is very important for parents to learn. This by no means suggests that they need to hide what they feel. Instead parents can make use of appropriate language and choose the right words that they want their children to learn to express their emotions as it might become too scary for a child to see fear and helplessness in their parents’ eyes.
Provide them with the right information: Creating awareness amongst children about the pandemic is the purpose and not to scare them by overloading them with unnecessary facts, information and reports which might create panic and fear in them. As children perceive a national emergency as a family emergency. They are concerned primarily about what’s going to happen to them, their family and friends . For this parents need to discuss with them about the situation and tell them it’s happening and it’s for real but it will pass sooner or later as work is in progress to make the vaccine available to protect against this virus.
Designate a worry time: A family can decide to have a corona free time wherein they will not have any discussion on it during those hours. For instance during mealtime, before sleep time, early in the morning and so on. They will not whine and discuss the problems or watch news or share newspaper reports on coronavirus during these pre-decided hours. The discussion on coronavirus can be held only during the designated hours of the day so that children learn to see other positive things happening around and not just unnecessarily worry about it.
Engage, Involve and Interact: Parents need to keep their children busy by involving them in household chores. They can be allowed to pursue their hobby to keep themselves active. Also, they need to be allowed to interact with their friends and family on video calls, or other digital platforms. Besides this, as a family they can engage with each other or be part of an activity such as a dance face off or dumbsharades or watch a movie together or play games and share some lighter moments with each other during the weekends to protect children from having an impact of pandemic on their mental health.
Offering personal space to children during certain hours of the day: Since children are not used to seeing their parents around 24/7, having them on their head all day nowadays due to everyone being confined to their homes can be too overwhelming for children. So it becomes important to offer them personal space without anyone nagging them to do something or the other. Children should be allowed to be on their own and do whatever they feel like for a few hours everyday.
COVID-19 can seriously have a negative impact on children’s mental health, just like other traumatic experiences that humans may face which can lead to depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Besides, it can cause fear in children as the pandemic puts everyone at risk including them and their families.This unprecedented situation has impacted the mental health of children in several ways as it has changed the way they typically grow, play, learn, interact, behave, and manage emotions. Stressors such as separation through isolation from their families and friends, witnessing the illness closely by seeing or being aware of a critically ill member affected with coronavirus, or even death of a loved one or even thinking of themselves perhaps dying from the virus can cause them anxiety, panic attacks, mood disorders, depression and other serious mental illnesses.
NOTE :If the symptoms last for more than two weeks despite trying above mentioned strategies, then the possibility of seeking online counseling or trying psycho social toll free helpline number -080-46110007 set up by the government should be sought.
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