Effects of Covid-19 Children's Mental Health
It’s been a year and a half since the Covid -19 outbreak. The pandemic has impacted every individual in some way, irrespective of their age. The children seem to be the most affected ones as they are dependent on their caregivers and the quarantine of one or both parents might have created anxiety in their minds. Fear, uncertainty, depression, trauma, and phobias that have been caused by the pandemic have negatively affected the mental health of children (UNICEF, 2021).
Fear and uncertainty have taken over children’s lives due to the concern of the closure of schools. As the schools are closed and restrictions on socialization are imposed, children cannot meet their friends, there is a lack of communication with others and they cannot play outdoor games freely. As a result, children have started spending more time using devices like mobile phones, laptops, etc. frequently. Excess exposure to screens might result in poorer sleep quality and decreased physical activity as the time spent in front of a screen takes away from time that could be utilized in doing various other activities.
Children have had to face severe challenges during the pandemic such as isolation from friends and family or even the death of their loved ones, all of which may have long-term repercussions on their mental health. I observed the real-world impact of Covid-19 when one of my relatives’ children experienced difficult emotions when his mother died of Covid-19. He was too young to understand what was happening but it was evident that the traumatic event left him with emotional disturbances. After the child learned about his mother’s death, he became lonely and quiet. He started avoiding speaking to anybody in person or over the phone. He started getting insecure about his elder sister, thinking she might leave him all of a sudden, just like his mother. The child then showed signs of recovery when he was taken to a child psychologist. The psychologist had meditation sessions for the child which were to relieve his stress and anxiety, family therapy sessions were also held to get to a consensus of what coping strategies would be the best for the child to cope with the loss effectively, and play therapy helped the child to express his emotions in a clearer way.
The pandemic has thrown challenges in everyone’s way, including parents. The occupational or emotional challenges that parents might have had to deal with during the pandemic may have had an impact on how they respond to situations. This could include how they deal with their frustration, manage the responsibilities of family and the household, which may cause hindrance in addressing their children's needs and worries.
To manage the issues faced by the children, their primary and secondary caregivers can use the following measures to deal with the above problems efficiently.
Firstly, give children the extra time and attention that they need right now. Being calm when the child throws a tantrum and identifying the cause of it might be helpful. Pay attention to a child’s behavior, even when there is a slight change in it, and speak with them about the change that is noticed. For example, in case a child starts behaving aggressively and throws a tantrum saying, “I won’t eat food till you give me the phone to play games”. One strategy we can employ is to distract the child with an activity they enjoy so that they may feel less distressed and can have their meal. If the child appears to be very distressed, it is important to sit with the child and patiently ask the reason behind their anger, sadness, or other emotions which they may not be commonly displaying. Good communication with the child sets an example for children to know that there is a space for them to express themselves if they are upset.
Secondly, engaging them in other activities such as indoor games like carrom, snakes, and ladder, etc; or creative and fun activities like painting, recycling items, etc, can be helpful in three ways:
1. It can help them express and communicate how they are feeling.
2. This helps children find healthy ways to express difficult feelings such as anger, fear or sadness.
3. By being a part of these activities, their mind gets diverted from devices like mobiles, televisions, laptops, etc. thus leading to reduced screen time (Zamperoni, 2018).
4. Taking an active part in these activities can enhance the child’s creativity.
Let’s illustrate this process with an example of recycling an item, such as an old newspaper to make a paper plane. The child concentrates on the parts of the thing he wants to recycle and imagines what could be possibly made from it. This activity gives shape to their imagination by making them think about how to mold the object in a particular manner. It also engages them in problem-solving methods when what they make does not turn out to be how they thought it would and they get engrossed in remaking it.
Thirdly, practicing stress management activities with them such as yoga, meditation, spending time in nature, and so on can help reduce the stress levels that children experience, thus leading to a release of happy hormones. During yoga, your brain releases all sorts of chemicals that not only help you relax but also lower your stress and anxiety levels such as dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins. Each of these functions in its way helps you calm down and feel better (Lymn, 2019).
Lastly, and most importantly, if your child is distressed and you’re uncertain about how to help, you can always reach out to a trusted mental health professional, or even contact Sangath’s tele-counseling helpline which is toll-free: 011-41198666
Lymn, E. (2019, 4 25). How Yoga Changes Your Brain. Retrieved from https://yogamedicine.com/how-yoga-changes-your-brain/
UNICEF. (2021). The impact of COVID-19 on children's mental health. Retrieved from https://www.unicef.org/india/impact-covid-19-childrens-mental-health
Zamperoni, V. (2018, 7 9). Retrieved from https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/blog/screen-time-and-childrens-mental-health-what-does-evidence-say