S S Sodhi
Many countries of the world, including India, are facing the effects of pandemic COVID 19 which continues to expand in India and in the world without any ray of hope in the immediate future, except for adapting our lifestyles to the new normal of the lurking coronavirus around.
Although this pandemic has broken all certitudes, there is one thing that is certain: the current situation will have a profound impact not only is the health and economic sectors but also on the psychosocial wellbeing of societies across all nations.
These impacts will be felt differently among different population groups. Among these, one of the most vulnerable groups which will be facing additional challenges in terms of understanding, absorbing, and dealing with the changes is, our children. The lockdown situation brings about an invariable sense of impending doom which undermines children’s motivation and affects their mental well being. Their happiness & carefreeness seem to have become hidden behind the mandatory masks, gloves, isolation, social distancing, limited social interaction, quarantine, and lockdown. Normally, all the playgrounds in the city would have been filled at this time – but pandemic-lockdown has forced people to stay at home.
In fact, COVID-19 pandemic is turning out to be a major stressor for most of humanity, especially our children, who are likely to suffer from acute stress disorders, irritability, fear, panic, avoidance behavior, emotional distress, and other mental and emotional health consequences.
This unprecedented mental and emotional health challenge needs to be addressed both globally and nationally, and that too with limited resources available with us.
There is a need to open ourselves to think beyond conventional strategies in order to sensitize people to cope with this stressful time brought by corona anxiety, by practicing easy to do and learn research-based techniques that will reduce fear, worry, and stress, especially among our children.
Recently, the World Health Organization & Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of India released documents on Helping Children Cope with Stress & Coping strategy for Children and Caregivers amidst sudden disruption in the daily routine due to COVID 19 with no clarity about the resumption of regular life. Whereas hundreds of millions of children have been affected by the lockdowns, with a potential negative impact on their education and mental wellbeing, it is necessary for the parents and the caregivers around them to stay vigilant and tread cautiously under these circumstances. Children should stay close to their parents and family, as far as possible while during periods of unavoidable separation, regular contact with parents and caregivers should be maintained at least twice-daily through phone call or video call. It is important to stay positive, reassuring as well as honest while communicating with your Child.
Steps for Parents and Caregivers: Make yourself available: Children may need extra attention from you and may want to talk about their concerns, fears, and questions. It is important that they know they have someone who will listen to them. Understand their insecurities and tell them you love them and give them plenty of affection. Listening patiently will also help them vent their stress and emotions.
Follow your child’s lead: Some children may want to spend time talking. If the child does not seem interested or does not ask a lot of questions, do not insist. However, gently tell the child that you would be available in case they wish to discuss the issue.
Follow routines: Keep to regular routines or schedules or help them create new ones in a new environment, including e-learning, homeschooling, taking out family time for exercising, playing, and relaxing.
Make it a point to talk with your child or teen, answer questions, and share facts in a way that your child or teen can understand:
You can explain facts to younger children in a child-friendly manner through comic strips which will help reduce anxiety. Focus on helping your child feel safe but be truthful. If your child asks about something and you don’t know the answer, say so. Parents/Caregivers should stay updated about facts.
Age-appropriate teaching about the pandemic
Elementary school children need brief, simple information with appropriate reassurances that their schools and homes are safe and that adults are there to take care of them. Junior school children might ask specific questions about whether they are truly safe and they may need assistance separating reality from rumor and fantasy. Senior students are able to discuss the issue in detail and can be referred directly to appropriate sources of facts. Parents should provide honest, accurate, and factual information about the current status of specific issues. Having such knowledge can help them feel a sense of control.
Be patient; children and youth do not always talk about their concerns readily: Watch for clues that they may want to talk about, such as hovering around while you do the dishes or yard work. It is very typical for younger children to ask a few questions, return to playing, then come back to ask more questions.
Remain calm and reassure your child or teen that they are safe: Let them know it is ok if they feel upset. Share with them how you deal with your own stress so that they can learn how to cope with you.
Avoid blaming anyone for the situation: It is important to avoid stereotyping any one group of people. Instead, explain the facts to the children in a scientific manner. State the truth honestly but refrain from exaggeration.
Limit your family’s exposure to social media / news : Children may misinterpret that they hear and could be frightened about something they do not understand. Be wary of the information shared on the internet are Constantly watching updates on the status of specific events can increase anxiety. Developmentally inappropriate information (i.e., information designed for adults) can also lead to anxiety or confusion, particularly in young children.
Put news stories in context: Watch the news with your kids so you can filter what they hear. When sharing information, it is important to make sure to provide facts without promoting a high level of stress, remind children that adults are working to address this concern, and give children actions they can take to protect themselves.
Children feel relieved if they can express and communicate their feelings in a safe and supportive environment. Many such activities can be chosen from the Interventions section of the website https://www.nimhanschildproject.in/
Be a role model:Take breaks, get plenty of sleep, exercise, and eat well. Connect with your friends and family members. Children and teens react, in part, on what they see from the adults around them. When parents and caregivers deal calmly and confidently, they can provide the best support for their children.
The above mentioned Coping Strategies and guidelines are research-based, and will, therefore, help to build our resilience skills in managing stress while dealing with children and also while working at home. And, amid all this, find peaceful and personal ‘me – time moments of joy, with family. Let us hope all of us will remember this stressful time as one long holiday and that our old life will return soon.
(The author is Social Activist
& Education Consultant)
S S Sodhi