- Mental health experts suggest parents to ensure children have some routine
- Dr Anuneet Sabharwal stresses on giving children their personal space
- Provide children the right information about the pandemic: Dr Sabharwal
New Delhi: In his Independence Day address, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal made it clear that schools in the national capital will remain closed until the COVID-19 situation is brought under control completely. CM Kejriwal had said, “I meet people and get messages from them asking not to open schools. I want to assure them that we care about their children as much as they do. Unless fully convinced, we are not going to open the schools”, as quoted by a news agency PTI.
Schools across India have been shut for over five months now. In India, Kerala was the first state to suspend classes in all schools, and colleges and exams for classes up to 7th standard on March 10. The following day the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Coronavirus pandemic and soon other states took the decision to shut schools and colleges for all classes.
The disruption of COVID-19 came not just with the threat to the health but it also came with major changes to lifestyle like physical distancing, wearing masks, washing hands frequently and some of this assumed as draconian proportions with the lockdown, which still exists is certain pockets, made necessary to contain the spread of the virus.
It’s easier for adults to control their urge to step out of the house than children. My two nephews – 2.5 and three years old – have suddenly turned stubborn and throw tantrums every now and then. Earlier (before lockdown), they used to go to the park every day where they would meet new people, cycle, play with a ball and other children. Whereas now, they are confined in a house and can play either in one of the rooms or balcony. They are with the same people and in same place, day in and day out, says Bhavya Chand from Ghaziabad.
Before we jump to the impact of lockdown, let’s understand different age groups and their behavioral pattern during a lockdown. Broadly, there can be three age groups – children under the age of five; middle age group and young teenagers (6-13); older kids.
Dr Pramit Rastogi, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at Children First, says,
Young kids need direct support and attention from parents or caregivers. Both young and middle-aged kids have high levels of energy and they express their stress through their body so for them, running around or doing physical activity is a must. On the other hand, the dependency of older kids on their parents is less and they typically stay in their rooms, do what they like and interact with their friends.
With the lockdown in place, there is a lot of negativity; children don’t have a fixed schedule; they have their parents around them, all the time. Together, these things can lead to anxiety, panic attacks, depression, and very rarely psychosis and paranoia – excessive suspicion where one can think, ‘I will not touch a particular thing, I will contract the virus’.
To know if a child is doing mentally well, Dr Harish Shetty, Psychiatrist at Dr. L. H. Hiranandani Hospital suggests observing their behavior for these possible signs. He says,
See if a child is sleeping excessively or not sleeping at all, irritability, social seclusion, complaints of nightmares, headache and stomach ache without any physical cause, lack of concentration, excessive clinging to parents, feeling hopeless, unnecessary and uneventful crying episodes, and violence.
5 Ways To Protect The Children’s Mental Health Amid Coronavirus And Lockdown
Self-regulation Of Fears And Anxiety
In any crisis, children perceive and react the way they see their parents responding to a situation. Elaborating on the parental anxiety, Dr Rastogi says,
Let’s say a family is in the middle of a flood-hit area and parents are freaking out even when they know flood will not reach their home. Under such a situation, a child might have post-traumatic stress just because he/she has seen that fear in his/her parents’ eyes. Feelings like ‘I feel low. I’m stressed’ are important and need to be processed but not in front of the kids, especially like that. Use words like instead of saying, it’s frustrating, say, I miss going to work as it’s fun to see your friends at work and frustrating because we don’t know when it’ll get over. Give your kids the words and language they can use to express their emotions.
Follow A Routine
Children belonging to all age groups have some or the other kind of a routine. For instance, a student of class 10 will wake up early in the morning, go to school where again he/she will follow a schedule, then at home, he/she will have play time, tuitions, homework, watching TV, so on and so forth. With the current pandemic, the routine has gone haywire. Talking about the same, Dr Anuneet Sabharwal, Psychiatrist and founder and director of The Happy Tree says,
There is a reason why children go to school, one is obviously to learn basic curriculum but the larger picture is they learn discipline and schedule. Right now, their schedule has been destructed and to top that, they are unable to go out, interact with their friends, and there is no physical activity. To overcome this, there has to be a balance, and a schedule. There is a phenomenon called activity scheduling under which we prepare 8 am to 8 pm schedule for a particular person. With this, an individual knows what to do next and they are able to prepare themselves mentally for that.
A child with a fixed schedule also helps parents and caregivers plan their day, especially when they are working from home and have to look after their child as well. Talking about the kind of routine required, Prabhat Kumar, Head of Child Protection at Save The Children, says,
Not the military type but some schedule has to be there. It aids parents in noticing the difference in their child’s behavior pattern and whether or not they are doing fine.
While a routine is important, parents should not strictly enforce the pre-lockdown schedule. Some relaxation is important like adjusting sleep time. Explaining the same, Dr Rastogi says,
When there is no need to get up in the morning, kids will tend to sleep late. Let them have a good sleep. It is okay if they wake up at 8 am or 9 am. They should wake up fresh. There is no need to fight with kids on unnecessary things.
Provide Right Information
Though one should not overload a child with the information, facts, and reports about the coronavirus crisis but providing right information and creating awareness is the key. Elaborating on the same, Dr Sabharwal says,
Children don’t perceive a national emergency as a national emergency. They understand it as a family emergency. They focus on what’s going to happen to them, their family and friends and that’s what needs to be addressed. Parents need to explain the situation and its plausible impact in simple terms.
Adding to this, Mr Kumar suggests discussing less of number of deaths and more about prevention of the infectious disease. He says,
Tell them the real situation so that they are aware of what is happening around them and make them accept it – it’s normal, it’s happening and this will pass.
Offer Personal Space
Everyone needs a personal space, sometime where they are on their own, without anyone nagging them to do some or the other thing or constantly blabbering. In the time of coronavirus, when people are either living with their families or friends, the personal space seems to be lost somewhere. Emphasising on the need for personal space, Dr Sabharwal says,
Even children are used to their parents not being around them, at least during day time. Suddenly, we are in a situation where your parents are on your head all day. Parents should let children be on their own for a few hours. Let them do what they feel like.
Engage, Involve And Interact
The key to keep children busy is to engage with them, involve them in household chores and allow them to interact with their friends, family and neighbours. Sharing tips on keeping children busy, Dr Shetty says,
Children under the age of 5 are easy to manage. By drawing reference to cartoon characters, you can talk about the virus, ask them to stay indoors and walk inside the house. Middle aged children have energy and want to run around. Let them run in the house, on the sofa. Don’t try to keep your house organised all the time. Also, let them watch TV, play video games for a short while, follow their hobbies like painting, drawing and video call their friends, favorite teacher, and talk about anything and everything. Introduce your kids to yoga and meditation. Don’t have tight boundaries. Most importantly, tell them to study for an hour so that they are in touch with their subjects.
Further talking about engaging with kids and involving them in household chores, Dr Rastogi says,
With middle-aged children, the level of engagement and their sense of contribution could be more. Tell them that we (parents) have the following tasks and ask for help. Give your kids small responsibilities inside the house like getting vegetables from the fridge. With older kids, the goal is not to be a parent but equal. In a progressive manner, approach them, tell them about the tasks to be done and ask what they can do.
Will Lockdown Lead To A Major Mental Health Crisis
Dr Rastogi believes that during a time of crisis, it’s appropriate to be sad, have fear or anxiety. Everybody is entitled to get symptoms and symptoms don’t make it a mental health crisis. He says,
It’s a normal response; as normal as everybody running out of the room after seeing a snake. We don’t have to freak out.
But what is important is validation and having an open discussion about it. Like, think why you are having these symptoms, accept that it’s okay to have them and then think on what to do about it. Sharing a couple of ways to deal with the situation, Dr Rastogi says,
A family can decide to have corona free time that is we will not discuss coronavirus after 5 PM. One can also have whining time or designate worry time – a particular time when the family will sit together, whine, and discuss all the problems. A fun time when the family will neither watch TV nor discuss coronavirus nor talk about any of the problems or studies, together we will just have fun.
Dr Rastogi is of the opinion that it’s appropriate to have symptoms for two weeks but if it lasts more than two weeks despite trying all the strategies, then one can look for online counselling or try psycho social toll free helpline number setup by the government – 080-46110007.
(If you need support or know someone who does, please reach out to your nearest mental health specialist.) Helplines:
AASRA: 91-22-27546669 (24 hours)
Sneha Foundation: 91-44-24640050 (24 hours)
Vandrevala Foundation for Mental Health: 1860-2662-345 and 1800-2333-330 (24 hours)
iCall: 022-25521111 (Available from Monday to Saturday: 8:00am to 10:00pm)
Connecting NGO: 18002094353 (Available from 12 pm – 8 pm)
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.
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