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COVID-19 Pandemic & Mental Health Issues in Children Adolescents How Can We Help Children Cope During this Pandemic?

With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world has come to a halt. Families all over the world are going through several changes in their daily lives caused by the pandemic. The educational institutes continue to be closed, and parents are learning to adjust to the ‘new normal’.

Pandemics affect both physical and mental health. With very little understanding of the event, children are more vulnerable to these situations. As they have lesser coping strategies compared to adults, children find it difficult to adjust to the situation. Being confined in one place and surrounded by the same set of people for a prolonged time can cause anxiety and stress in children.

Impact of the Containment Measures on the Mental Health of Children

Like every other nation, India has asked its citizens to practice social distancing to curb the spread of the Coronavirus infection. The fear of infection, disruption of daily activities, and social distancing from friends have impacted the mental health of children. Though containment measures are necessary, their impact is likely to be adverse on both children and adolescents.

Stress and Anxiety in Children of Different Age Groups

Children of different age groups react differently to stressful situations. Children of older age or adolescents may seem a bit more understanding, whereas younger children may feel confused or irritated.

Younger children

Younger children may display their stress in ways that could be interpreted by parents as a temper tantrum or misbehavior. You may also notice that your kids are becoming more aggressive or are struggling to focus while doing their routine activities such as playing.

Some children may come out as clingier or demanding and experience problems while sleeping. The disruption to the sleep pattern may be due to problems sleeping at night, experiencing frequent nightmares, or waking up multiple times.

Older children or adolescents

Older children may feel angry about missing out on social gatherings, meeting their friends, or playing sport outside. At the ages of twelve to nineteen, maintaining social relationships are some of the most important events of life. This can make staying at home difficult for these children.

Combined with the hormonal changes in adolescents, isolation at home with their parents can be a really challenging task. They may show anger, frustration, and nervousness, among other feelings. Some children may develop an Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) by continually having to keep themselves and their surroundings clean at such times.

Children with pre-existing mental illness

Children with pre-existing mental illness may react entirely differently to a situation like a pandemic. Children with anxiety or depression may be flooded with a range of emotions with the news of people dying across the world. In such times, a child with pre-existing OCD may get worse.

In children with psychiatric disorders, the disease condition coupled with the fear of having to stay in a closed space (like a room or house) may get traumatic.

Strategies to help children cope in this difficult situation

Be a role model

In stressful situations, children turn to adults for guidance on how to cope with problems. If you are panicking and stressing, the child will have the same reaction. Try to keep calm in front of the child and give them all the support they need.

Explain COVID-19 and social distancing

Staying at home gives children access to technology at all times. Social media platforms may circulate unverified or false information that can negatively affect the child. Talk to your child and explain to them all that you feel they should know about the current situation. Do not burden them with unnecessary information.

Maintain a daily routine

With educational institutes closed, your kids will spend a lot of time at home. Help them maintain a new routine and make sure they stick to it. You can ask them to help with the house chores, study, learn a new skill, and connect with friends virtually. This will create a sense of predictability and control among the children.

Monitor the time spent on electronic devices

This is an important strategy to help children cope with the pandemic. Continuous updates on the COVID-19 may increase anxiety and fear. If children get access to information that’s designed for adults, it may create confusion or nervousness, especially among younger children. Too much time spent on gadgets can harm their health as well, such as the eyesight.

Be accurate and honest

Children tend to imagine situations that may not even be related to reality. Answer all their questions with patience and provide appropriate facts.

Provide age-appropriate information

If you have younger children, give them simple and brief information about the situation. Reassure them that if they fall sick, they will be taken care of. Explain to them how important it is to wash hands and keep clean frequently. Use more straightforward language and avoid the use of big and complicated words; they may find it scary.

If your children are in middle school, you may need to give a bit more detailed explanation of the situation. This group of children is often inquisitive about things and asks a lot of questions. So make sure you answer every question with the appropriate answer. Discuss how the country is taking steps to make sure the infection doesn’t spread. Explain to them what would happen if the infection spreads in your locality. Keep the tone friendly.

If you have teenagers, discuss the issues with them in-depth. You may also provide them with trusted sources where they can learn about the situation on their own. Reassure them that if they need any assistance with understanding a particular issue, you will be available. Keep them involved in family conversations and decisions.

Know the symptoms of COVID-19

Keep a check on the health symptoms your children are showing. The common symptoms of COVID-19 are:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Loss of taste and smell
  • Cough

If you notice any symptoms that could be related to the COVID-19, immediately visit a doctor.

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