As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to multiply in India and worldwide, one thing is clear, that the current situation proved to have a profound impact not only on the physical health and economic condition but also on psychological health across nations. Its impact has not spared any segment of the population; nevertheless one of the most vulnerable populations has to be infants and children.
Watching the present scenario of lockdown restricted school and routine out-door play, limiting children’s interactions and learning opportunities have made parents overwhelmed with fear and anxiety of life threatening possibilities. They are observing extra safety measures, gluing to fear inducing TV/News channels discussing only COVID-19 and nothing else, without involving children in their discussion of the family. They are facing difficulties in procuring daily commodities, being over protective, restrictive and concerned about the safety of their children’ making even the children anxious of unknown and uncontrollable threat to their life. Exposure to such situation for a long time makes them vulnerable to a host of mental health issues e.g. stress, insecurity, anger spells, fear spells, panic attacks as if they are going through some horror film in their real life. In times of such universal crisis’ children can also become an easy victim of domestic violence some times and suffer psychological trauma. The loss of livelihood causing economic hardships in the families further intensifies the impact of the pandemic on children. Certain segments of the societies witness gender biases in favor of female children being more victimized. Such prior exposures and their adverse impact on children have been well documented in public health researches.
Overwhelmed with multiple concerns, added responsibilities, parents tend to ignore the signs of adverse impact of such situations on children or trivialize the need to address their mental health issues. Such scenario makes vulnerable tender souls all the more miserable. They may become aloof and alienated, may start throwing temper tantrums, emotional outbursts, demonstrate destructive or attention seeking behavior, harming their siblings or regressing to more primitive behaviors of bed wetting, nail biting, thumb sucking to mention a few.
In such scenario, when parents and care givers are struggling with the threat of getting infected with COVID-19, they find it difficult to handle children with tender care and concern. There are some simple steps for the parents and care givers to promote and protect mental and physical health of their children during such testing situations:
- Parents or caregivers need to be empathetic in understanding the emotional needs of the children patiently. Keep communication channels open, listen to them, their anxieties and fears. Discuss the prevailing situation with them as per their comprehension abilities in safe environments. Promote healthy discussions, address their questions and encourage them to seek correct information from authentic sources. Protect them from fake and unauthenticated scary news sources. Encourage them to see the optimistic, hopeful side of the picture and discourage them to fall prey to the gloomy side of the scenario.
- Make children an active member of the family task force to fight against COVID-19 as per their capabilities in a very safe and guarded environment. For e.g. encourage them to help in completing family chores within their own capacity like, taking care of younger siblings, spending more time with the elders of the family and assisting them, participating in family decision making in their small little ways. Active participation dissipates anxiety, reduces fear, stress and addresses hopelessness and helplessness and other negative behavioral outbursts and keeps them constructively busy.
- This is the golden opportunity to let children explore their skills, talents, and strengths. Within limited resources and restricted environment, promote their hobbies in indoor activities, reading, music, creative writing, drawing and paintings, safe and guarded cooking activities, (watching TV shows on cooking, watching and assisting the cooking team in the kitchen, preparing different types of salads, cold deserts, garnishing food dishes etc. laying table, and helping in winding up), watching educative and entertaining TV programs, organizing their rooms and small little corners of the house. This enhances self-efficacy, build self-confidence, problem solving and decision making skills in children. Proactive participation during such difficult times, with team spirit makes them strong, secure and resilient. Contacting friends and relatives on phone to enrich their bonds, expressing gratitude, greeting and wishing them good health and happiness. Such acts of kindness enhance happiness and well-being in them and others cultivate empathy, emotional and social intelligence.
- Encourage children to schedule their routine, at least on a weekly basis, and follow it, modify on the basis of feedback, make their days meaningfully and interestingly busy. Diary writing is a good option to follow.
- Encourage them to observe good personal and hand hygiene, norms of social distance, develop healthy food habits, regular exercise and take sufficient sleep and rest.
- Simultaneously, avoid inflicting violence, nagging, personal criticism, name calling, demeaning, pointing to their faults publicly at home
- If someone is suffering from COVID-19 in the family, teach them the necessity and ways of staying in quarantine. In case child shows Signs and Symptoms of psychological distress which could easily be observed by the parents and care givers, they need to be recognized and identified. The commonly observed signs and symptoms are- sleep disturbances including night mares, horror dreams, disturbed eating pattern- loss of appetite or over earing, binge eating, digestive disturbances – loose motions or constipation.
- Regressive and aggressive behaviors or crying spells, mood swings, emotional outbursts, suspicious, sensitive, aloof, showing disinterest in routine play, interaction, entertainment friends and relatives. Head ache, stomach pain, etc. could also be observed. If he/she shows such signs and symptoms, it should be realized that child needs counseling to cope with his psychological symptoms.
Such signs and symptoms warranty need for counseling. Counseling children is a highly skilled art but parents and care takers can easily learn it.
- Build mutual trust and respect. Encourage children to talk and share their feeling without fear or embarrassment and listen to them empathetically
- Speak calmly and politely to your child in times of such crisis. Instead of denying or trivializing their fears and anxieties, rather acknowledge and address them in the given context. Show the positive realistic picture and empower them by helping to identify their strengths. Praise their efforts to cope with the situation with courage, compassion, and social resources.
- Reassure children their safety and security. Make them feel that they are under good care and protection.