Are no school and play making children suffer mental distress?

Dr Naveen Jayaram – Consultant Psychiatrist, Sakra World Hospital

Keeping your family safe from COVID-19 infections is important but one should not ignore the negative impact it might have on your family’s mental health, especially children. Social isolation, physical distancing, and school closure during lockdown have resulted in creating a negative impact in the minds of children owing to lack of sports, routine life, and outdoor games. While they may be spending quality family time with parents, lack of regular routine life and activities are reportedly causing them anxiety and mental distress.

Understanding the causes children of stress, anxiety and depression during lockdown is vital

It is common for any young or adult to feel worried or anxious during the pandemic. As a parent, it is important to realize that your children are going through the same situation like everybody else. With school closing, no play, sports or hardly any physical activity makes them dull. Children who are used to learning, playing and indulging in sports with their friends every day may feel anxious with the sudden change in their routines. Unlike their usual summer vacations, sudden changes in their lives and routines can be difficult to adjust.

Incidences of teenagers indulging in smoking, trying to smuggle a friend into apartment in a suitcase are being reported. They are mostly worried and anxious about pending exams and results, future related to further studies, etc. Hence, watching over any changes in their behaviour and helping them cope with the situation is necessary. Seeking help from a professional counsellor can bring their anxiety under control.

Dr Naveen Jayaram - Consultant Psychiatrist - Sakra World Hospital

How parents can motivate their children?

Children are curious by nature. They might ask many questions relating to the virus or situation. Communication is the key to keep their anxieties at bay and create a safe and nurturing environment at home for them. Clarify their doubts, let them understand and educate on the seriousness of the pandemic and the crisis. Explain why staying at home is crucial to curb the spread of the virus and how personal hygiene plays a significant role in keeping ourselves healthy and safe. Breaking the news about how this deadly virus is affecting the lives of people can ignite a sense of unknown fear.

Children might develop fear, insecure feelings, anxiety, irritability. All parents are unable to engage them in daily routine or few of them are finding it tough to juggle between their work and taking care of the children. Most parents complain that screen time of the kids has gone high, and some are noticing compulsive behaviours like playing games or watching videos. Parents with kids with special needs are finding it very tough to engage kids in this lockdown period.

Children also require daily routine schedules which are time bound. Their eating habits, sleep timings, play, study and screen time have to be regulated. Introducing fun and enjoyable play environment at home is the key, for this parent needs to be in a really good space. Learning can be made interesting by actively utilizing the available resources, give importance for harmony and peace in the relationship. Parents should be a role models for the kids, if they maintain calmness, positive feelings and positive outlook about the future, kids will imbibe these things.

Parenting and home environment have a major role on every adult’s personality characteristics and behaviours. Consistent and thriving parenting is the need in these modern times. Give importance to common sense, moral, ethical behaviours rather than binging on academics.

Children are great imitators. As a parent, one must ensure that any anxiety related to the crisis must not be passed down to the children. It is important to reassure them that this will pass and keep them motivated. Keep your children busy and spend quality time with them as much as possible. Break the monotony, indulge in more physical activities with them. Engage in activities such as reading, playing, cooking, terrace gardening, cleaning, crafts, etc. where both the parents can be involved.  Do home exercises such as yoga, zumba, breathing exercises and play indoor games to keep them fit and healthy.

A silver lining to the pandemic is the family time that parents can enjoy with their children. Not only will it strengthen the bond with your children, it will also help them communicate with you openly. Bring in the fun element in the regular routine activities and help them learn new life skills, discover their interests in different activities by finding them new hobbies, etc.  Listen to their concerns and give them extra love and attention

When in chaos, it is okay to seek professional help

If distress levels increase or significant behavioural changes happen seeking help from a professional is necessary. Nonetheless, the situation right now is challenging and we need to take extra precautions to reduce the state of anxiety and panic in our children. This can be even more challenging especially for children with special needs or those experiencing symptoms of depression. Seeking help from professional experts and will help them to cope up with anxiety.

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