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Living in pandemic times is taking a toll on nearly everyone’s mental health, and children are no exception. In fact, they are having a tougher time than others as far as their overall health and development is concerned. Apart from the many apparent changes that the present times have brought in them, health experts are also expressing their concern over the invisible impact of Covid-19 pandemic on children’s physical and mental health. From diabetes, anxiety to depression, kids who are largely inactive and leading an unhealthy lifestyle could go on to develop these health conditions later in life.
“The pandemic brought a complex array of challenges that caused mental health concerns for everyone, both children and adults. For children, the impact was more severe, as in the developing age a small change in the environment can change the trajectory of normal development very steeply,” says Dr Puja Kapoor, Paediatric Neurologist & Co-founder of Continua kids.
Due to lockdown and closure of schools, children aged between 1 to 4 years could not get an opportunity to go out and interact with their peers and teachers.
“At this age, the maximum development of social and communication skills happens. Due to the lockdown, the children were confined to their homes with no interaction with the outside world, no school, no stimulation for language,” says Dr Kapoor.
While earlier, school, activity classes and outdoor play time used to take care of all the developmental milestones of kids, during pandemic the little ones are largely glued to their screen for education as well as recreation.
“The majority of them had mobiles, or screentime as their friend and they spent hours glancing at the screen. It has been proven time and again that any exposure to screentime before 18 months of age can cause cognitive decline, speech delay, and behaviour changes in the form of temper tantrums. Because screentime is a one-way communication, where it is the gadget which does the talking and the child has to be mute, listening and seeing the change of frame of pictures, it led to suppression of the development of speech,” says Dr Kapoor.
While parents think that their children are learning through poems, alphabets and numbers online, the lack of two way communication could affect their social milestones.
“Parents were pleased that at least they are gaining knowledge, ignorant of the fact that it was non-contextual learning at the expense of social and communication milestones,” says the paediatric neurologist.
“Children have developed social anxiety. As they haven’t seen any outsider during the last 1 to 2 years, they started believing that there was no other living entity, apart from their house. Any new acquaintance is met with anxiety and aggression. They have now cocooned themselves and any social interaction is not acceptable,” says Dr Kapoor.
In absence of interaction with peers, a lot of sensory concerns are developing in kids. Many of them have become irritable, throwing temper tantrums and- have developed the habit of biting, hitting and basically taking out frustration as they are unable to communicate their feelings effectively through words, says the expert.
“Also, children need a playground, a lot of space, and activities to expedite their enormous energy. In the confines of the house, the energy was not channelised leading to deviation of these energies in the form of impulsivity, outburst, hyperactivity etc. They want the things done as soon as it was uttered, without any waiting time. As in the screen, they can change the channel to another one, if they don’t like the previous one, they have started thinking that in real life also they do that if they don’t want whatever is happening around them. This belief when unmet caused behavioral concerns and even meltdowns,” says Dr Kapoor.
Children need to connect with the outside world and have interaction with their peers in some way or the other, to reach their developmental milestones and correct behaviour problems. If physical interaction is not possible, connecting your child over video call with their friends is probably a good idea. Instead of staying glued to the screen, physical activities can be planned for the little ones so that their energies are utilized in the right way.