Children’s mental health during the pandemic

Children’s mental health during the pandemic
June 21 09:59 2021 by admin Print This Article

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought as much death, destruction, and disruption as the two world wars did. Financial and career struggles, health risks, stress and trauma, abuse and violence – the world has seen it all in the last 18 months. While the stress brought about by the pandemic to adults is glaring and obvious, the impact on children can be worse but is not discussed enough.

Children are still in their formative years, which means their intellectual and emotional maturity are still not at the same level as that of adults. How the pandemic plays out, both inside and outside the home can affect the child’s mental health, with long-term consequences in some cases. It’s important for parents to appreciate how serious the problem is and handle it with care and maturity. This will go a long way in reducing the damage to your child’s psychological well-being.

Symptoms in different children

Infants, toddlers, and children below 8 years of age

● Being fussy, irritable, crying and getting upset easily, being difficult to console
● Being asleep through the day and waking up more at night
● Breastfeeding issues – being frantic or refusing to feed

● More reflux of the feed, loose stools, constipation, and stomach pain
● Separation anxiety makes the child more clingy
● The child is withdrawn and hesitates to explore or experiment with new things
● Hitting, beating, biting become more frequent or intense
● Bedwetting in spite of being potty-trained.
● Appearing frustrated, not satisfied or happy, and unable to express feelings
● Liking themes like conflict, aggression, illness, or death during play or story-telling

Older children and adolescents

● Mood swings, being irritable or angry quickly, frequent conflicts or showdowns, emotional meltdowns with friends and family.
● Changes in social behavior, such as extroverted children showing less interest in texting, chatting, or calling friends, introverted children becoming gloomier and depressed
● Indifference or lack of interest in activities or hobbies previously enjoyed
● Difficulty in staying awake or falling asleep or both, disturbed sleep
● Loss of appetite, changes in weight or eating patterns, eating times, and diet preferences
● Cognitive issues around memory, reasoning, and concentration
● Reduced interest in schoolwork and academic home-work
● Lack of interest in appearance, grooming, and personal hygiene
● Increase in reckless or addictive behaviors such as drug or alcohol abuse
● Suicidal thoughts, tendencies, and behavior, talking about death or suicide

Tips for parents

Keep a lid on your own stress

We are often told that children do not ‘listen’ to parents but imbibe them rather. This point applies to handling stress as well. Parents who appear calm, relaxed, and positive in spite of many challenges in their life, become an inspiration to their children. It creates a template on how to handle stress, a lesson that remains with them in their adult life. In the same way, parents who overreact or lash out emotionally become a bad example for their children. Children begin to accept that it’s Ok to be ‘crazy’ when stressed. This can be dangerous for them in the long run. The pandemic will go away soon. Parents should remember this, stay calm and stay focused. Use relaxation techniques like yoga, meditation, or indulging in your hobbies to stay positive. Free-hand exercises at home, also help.

Filter out the bad news

There is a deluge of bad news and gloom everywhere. Older children get enough of gloomy news on their mobiles from their friends and social media contacts. As a parent, you cannot stop this. But you can at least minimize such discussions at home. Switch off the news or change channels. Do not fret, show anger or express angst. A gloomy atmosphere at home can make things worse for a child who is coping with missed school, missed outings with friends, missed sports. And above all the constant risk of catching Covid hangs like a sword on his/her head.

Be vigilant

Even as you do the right things outlined here, constantly watch out for your child’s behavior. Watch for subtle changes in behavior, discussions, or the lack of interaction. Children with suicidal tendencies do not always show symptoms. So it’s important to be connected with your child all the time. Various studies have been conducted in the last 1 year in China, Bangladesh, Italy, and Spain on the ill effects of the pandemic on children’s mental health. In one such study, 76.6% children had difficulty concentrating, 52% showed boredom, 39% – irritability, 38.8% – restlessness, 38% – nervousness, 31.3% – loneliness, 30.4% – uneasiness and 30.1% – worries (source: psychiatrictimes.com).

Be empathetic, show affection

Recognize that children view the world or any crisis differently than adults do. Adults have faced crises or challenges in the past and are better equipped to deal with them. The same is not true of children. So a hug, a kiss, a pat on the back, loving words, a little pampering all help to mitigate the stress of the situation. Children will appreciate the support system at home and be comfortable approaching their parents for advice or help. As they turn into adults, they will be comfortable asking for help from friends or coworkers. This is a very useful trait in life.

Engage and involve

It’s important to stay close as a family in such times. Involve your child in household chores, or help with the cooking. It helps you bond with your child better and also inculcates a sense of responsibility in the child.

Create routines but be flexible

Disciplines and routines can be soothing and are important for overall personality development. And this is what the pandemic has robbed from us. To make up for it, introduce small routines at home. The time interval for having a meal should be limited, household chores should have a deadline and the child should attend online classes or tests on time. At the same time, a little flexibility on sleeping and waking times, mobile or leisure time, and choice of food is OK. You don’t have to run a military school at home.

Spend time together but respect space

Even as you bond with your child through various activities, respect your child’s time and space. If he/she would like to excuse himself/herself to chat up with friends or read something on the mobile, that is OK. A parent who is a constant shadow can get on the child’s nerves and add to the stress.

Seek family support when needed

If unfortunately, you or your spouse has been infected with Covid and must be hospitalized, it’s important to reach out to friends and family for support. The concern for the parent and the impending risk from the infection can make a sensitive child even more withdrawn or still worse, suicidal. Seek out a relative or friend who can shift to your home till such time you or your spouse is back home. It’s reassuring to the child and also makes your life easy.

Seek the help of experts

If none of the above tips are helping out and you are concerned about your child’s behavior, it’s time to involve an expert. Consult a reputed hospital in your city. Such hospitals have a psychiatry department staffed by experienced psychologists and counselors. Even if face-to-face counseling is not possible, in case of a lockdown, you can still avail of telephonic or online consultations.

Outlook

As we go through the second year of the pandemic, there are many lessons learnt in the last 18 months. The Healthcare and Pharmaceutical industries have played a stellar role in minimizing the damage done by the pandemic in India. Many adults have already received one or both doses of the vaccine. Children below 18 years of age will be vaccinated soon. So, all in all, there are enough reasons for optimism.

However, not all children can understand or appreciate the same. Children do not view the world in the same way as adults do. Adults should recognize this and play a positive role in helping their children cope with stress induced by the pandemic. Being callous, or assuming that the child will manage on its own, can be disastrous and have long-term consequences. Do not allow that.

This pandemic is probably the best opportunity for you as a parent to show how much you care for your child. That will help your child/children cope with the crisis better and put it behind them, as well, if not better than the adults around them.

 

Kauvery Hospital is globally known for its multidisciplinary services at all its Centers of Excellence, and for its comprehensive, Avant-Grade technology, especially in diagnostics and remedial care in heart diseases, transplantation, vascular and neurosciences medicine. Located in the heart of Trichy (Tennur, Royal Road and Alexandria Road (Cantonment), Chennai, Hosur, Salem and Bengaluru, the hospital also renders adult and pediatric trauma care.

Chennai – 044 4000 6000 • Trichy – Cantonment – 0431 4077777 • Trichy – Heartcity – 0431 4003500 • Trichy – Tennur – 0431 4022555 • Hosur – 04344 272727 • Salem – 0427 2677777 • Bengaluru – 080 6801 6801

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