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One of the most significant public health measures implemented during the covid-19 pandemic has been extended periods of ‘lockdown’. This has led entire populations to remain in their households, other than stepping out for essential services.
There is an increasing demand to understand the impact of this lockdown, and of subsequent school closures, on the mental health and well-being of children during the covid-19 pandemic. As lockdown measures begin to ease, an understanding is required of what children have been experiencing during the lockdown period as well as how children can be best supported to resume normal life over the coming months and years.
The covid-19 pandemic and lockdown has instilled a sense of fear and anxiety around the globe. This phenomenon has led to short-term as well as long-term psychosocial and mental health implications for children. The quality and magnitude of impact on minors is determined by many vulnerability factors like developmental age, educational status, pre-existing mental health conditions, being economically underprivileged or being quarantined due to infection or fear of infection. In young children, the pandemic and lockdown have a greater impact on emotional and social development compared to that in grown-ups.
In one of the preliminary studies during the ongoing pandemic, it was found that younger children (3-6years old) were more likely to manifest symptoms of clinginess and the fear of family members being infected than older children (6-18 years old). Whereas, the older children were more likely to experience inattention and were persistently inquiring regarding covid-19. Although, severe psychological conditions of increased irritability, inattention and clingy behaviour were revealed by all children irrespective of their age groups. Children felt uncertain, fearful and isolated during current times. It was also shown that children experienced disturbed sleep, nightmares, poor appetite, agitation, inattention and separation related anxiety.
1. Compared to adolescents, younger children demand more attention from their parents. They need their parents’ physical presence and need to engage in more indoor play-related activities with them. Parents should devote time to provide the child with undivided, positive attention and reassurance.
2. With the aim to increase children’s awareness about covid-19, it is crucial for parents to communicate with young children in an age appropriate manner by using simple terminologies about the virus. Children need to be given fact-based information with the help of presentations and video material provided by authorized international organizations like WHO and UNICEF or government resources, which have been tailor-made especially for children.
3. To alleviate the anxiety of children regarding the current uncertain situation, children’s exposure to news should be limited and be through fact based neutral news channels only. The tabloid news should be avoided by all means.
4. The parents are recommended to model appropriate preventive measures and coping mechanisms, which the family as a team and children individually are motivated to follow. For this, the use of reminders through the phone may also be used.
5. Efforts should be made so that a consistent routine is followed by the child, with enough opportunities to play, read, rest and engage in physical activity. It is recommended that the family plays board games and engages in indoor sports activities with the child, in order to avoid longer durations of video games. Parents should ensure that particularly the bedtime of a child is consistent. It is possible that before bedtime, children may need some more time and attention.
6. Focus should be on the ‘good behaviour’ more than ‘bad behaviour’ of a child. Parents must tell their children more about options regarding what to do rather than what not to do. Provide more praise and reinforcements to children.
7. It is quite possible that parents observe some amount of change in the behaviour in children during the times of a pandemic. If the behavioural problems are minor and not harmful for children and others, parents should consider ignoring the negative and reinforcing the positive behaviours. This may lead to decrease in the recurrence in behavior.