Taking Care Of Children’s Mental Health During Lockdown

by | July 9, 2021, 15:18 IST

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For children, as for adults, the COVID-19 pandemic poses a threat to both physical and mental health. It has forced children to stay at home, kept them from meeting their friends, going out to a playground, and, most importantly, going to school. It is doubly traumatic for them, because they might be unable to fully understand the need for this seclusion, and this non-comprehension might cause anxiety, irritability, and other symptoms. As your kids navigate this school year with the same uncertainties as to the last, here’s what you can do to bring some normalcy to their lives.
Follow Routines

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Frame a daily routine adapted to the interests of the child and ensure this schedule is adhered to. This should include family time for socialising and interaction, play, age-appropriate exercises that the child enjoys, creative activities and family meals, to list a few elements. Says Jyothi Sharma, mother of two children aged four and two, “We believe that the child learns not just curriculum, but also discipline and schedule. Right now, their schedule has been destroyed, and they have absolutely no physical activity due to the pandemic.” Sharma adds that fixed schedules for kids work particularly well for nuclear families that have little or no support; parents can then plan their work and home chores accordingly.

Kanchan Rai, mental and emotional wellbeing coach, and founder of Let Us Talk based out of New Delhi, avers that as much as parents are making the effort to restore a planned routine to keep kids occupied, it is also vital to give importance to their mental wellness and to seek expert help if you feel your child needs it. Work to help the child develop the resilience to cope with all that life throws at them and grow into well-rounded healthy adults. “Factors like feeling loved, trusted and understood, having a sense of belonging in their family, and being raised in a safe and cultured environment can help the child stay emotionally fit,” she says.
Build Trust

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It is essential to talk to the children about the pandemic situation in a way they can understand. While they should be apprised of the basic facts of the disease and the safety precautions, care should also be exercised to not let them be overwhelmed by too much information. “Discussions about deaths or serious illnesses among family members due to COVID-19 would impact the child adversely, and this might sometimes require specialist intervention by a child psychiatrist to be dealt with,” says Dr Aravind S, Consultant – Paediatrics and Neonatology, MGM Healthcare, Chennai.
Engage And Interact
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It is important to listen to your child’s perceptions and worries and offer explanations and clarifications. Children should be comforted and reassured in a realistic manner to instill positivity. It helps children a lot, especially during the lockdown when parents or caretakers spend quality time with them in an age-appropriate manner. “Social interaction and behaviour skill development should be the focus of parental interaction rather than rapid improvement in intelligence or cognition,” avers Dr. Aravind. “Listening patiently to the child’s needs and attending to them, speaking to them in a calm and reassuring tone, avoiding punitive actions, and praising them for their good behaviour would help build an emotionally strong child.” He suggests ways in which parents can make lockdown days interesting for their kids: “Sing songs, narrate stories, make music, and copy their facial expressions or sounds. This would interest babies and toddlers; young children would enjoy it when you read a book, involve them in household chores they enjoy, dance with them, or help them with schoolwork. Teenagers might require more adaptive strategies that interest them such as talking about their field of interest like sports or a TV show or going for a walk on the terrace or doing a workout with them.”
Reduce Screen Time

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The American Academy of Paediatrics recommends that children below 18 months of age should not have any screen time, those between 18 and 24 months should also preferably not be exposed to screens, but, if unavoidable, the duration should be restricted to less than an hour a day, and an adult must co-watch. The recommended screen time is less than an hour a day for children aged between three and five years, 1-1.5 hours for those between six and 10 years, and up to two hours per day for those aged between 11 and 13. “Prolonged exposure to electronic gadgets has physical and psychological consequences on children,” warns Dr Aravind S. “It strains their eyes, affecting their eyesight and resulting in headaches and sleep deprivation.” He adds that a healthy habit needs to be inculcated pertaining to screen time during the pandemic, keeping in mind the inevitable need for the online education programme. “Teach the child to take a 20-second break for every 20 minutes of screen time to stare at an object about 20 feet away; it helps to avoid eye strain,” he says.
Be A Good Role Model

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Maintain a healthy routine, consume a balanced diet, practise relaxation exercises, take brisk walks, maintain sleep hygiene and encourage your child to follow you. Children learn from what they see their parents do; set them a good example by taking care of their physical and mental health.

Here are expert tips from Sandeep Gautam, Co-founder, PeakMind, to ensure your child’s emotional wellbeing during this crisis:

- Have an open and age-appropriate discussion regarding the pandemic. Ask them what they already know.
- Have adequate control of social media usage and other exposure to news.
- Acknowledge their concern. Do not ignore or disregard their anxiety. If they ask questions, take them seriously and respond to their queries adequately.
- Look out for signs of stress, anxiety, or depression. They might also get angry easily, have emotional outbursts, and become more stubborn than usual, and so on.
- Keep calm. Children can sense anxiety in adults, which makes them even more anxious. Calm yourself first before helping them.
- Avoid forcing your child to be productive during this pandemic. Encourage them to express themselves in whatever activities they feel comfortable with.
- If you think your child is in a low mood, give them space. Do not ask too many questions; just assure them that you are there for them. Seek professional help if needed.

Also ReadIs Your Baby Missing Vaccines Amid The Pandemic?
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