Ranchi, Jharkhand | July | 21, 2020 :: As the COVID-19 pandemic continues spread in India and in the world, there is increasing evidence from various surveys such as Action for Children, which says that the restrictions have an impact on the mental health of children and adolescents.
Children have been cooped up in their homes, unable to meet and play with their friends or have normal social interactions which were a part of their routine and as a result are being deprived of some of the biggest moments in their young lives. Many parents are reaching out for parenting and counselling advice. In fact, not just children, but parents are also facing issues of anxiety and sleeplessness. Hence, the impact is increasingly being seen on the psychosocial well-being of different sections of our population.
But children and young girls and boys are the most vulnerable section of the society feeling the brunt of this situation as they are often unable to absorb the changes which has been brought due to the pandemic in their daily lives and activities. This leads to them feeling confused, frustrated, anxious and having a fear of the unknown.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed with everything we hear about coronavirus (COVID-19) right now. It is also understandable that children are upset. They find it difficult to understand what they see online or on television – or what they hear from other people as a result of which they are particularly vulnerable to anxiety, stress, and sadness.
Then there is also an overflow of messages which they are receiving during this lockdown, which also has an impact on them and often fills their mind with fear. Playing with friends and going to school, which children enjoy the most, has been replaced by excessive screen time. This kind of a change in their normal routine is changing the way they behave – making them agitated, aggressive or even withdrawn. It is important for parents to be more vigilant about online safety of children including monitoring of apps which children access, locking of apps which are not age appropriate, teaching them about online safety and limiting their screen time.
Some adults may struggle to find ways to explain and communicate with children about the current situation in a way that is understandable by this age group, which adds to their frustration. COVID-19 is also bringing new stressors on parent and caregivers. This can hamper their capacity to provide care and remain engaged with their children.
SELF-CARE IS IMPORTANT
Being a parent is a daily challenge and faced with the realities of COVID-19, social distancing and self-quarantine, it may be a struggle. For parents, the best way to help their children is to firstly take care of themselves. Self-care during these times is not selfish because it enables the caregivers to be there for their children as a stable, calm and soothing parents.
This way, parents will also be able to better understand their children and help them feel reassured, relaxed and focused. Being very keen observers of people and environments, children notice, absorb and react to the stress in their parents and caregivers, which unavoidably will affect their well-being. And this is only the beginning.
Levels of stress will be exponentially higher among vulnerable families. For children who are deprived of parental care in Child Care Institutions or in alternative care, children living in the streets, or child migrants and on the move, for example, their situation will be particularly challenging.
Prior experiences in public health emergencies have demonstrated that there is a high likelihood of an increase of violence, including gender-based violence, domestic violence or corporal punishment against children and women. With the current movement restrictions, girls and boys who become victims of violence will face obstacles to seek out for help and have an access to support systems.
BE THERE FOR YOUR CHILDREN
As parents and family members we can help our children overcome this difficult time by observing if there is any change in the behaviour of the children. As parents you must remain calm and listen to your children’s problems and build a trusting relation with them. Make them feel that you trust them and you are there for them.
CREATE HEALTHY HABITS
Engage them in exercises, dancing, yoga etc. Empathise and understand their feelings and the stress, their fear and anxiety and empower and nurture them and guide them with facts.
We can keep them engaged in age appropriate family or household activities. Connect with relatives and friends through online sources such as video calls. Draw a routine for your children which should include productive time (studies), fun time such as favourite games, a chill or relax time, bed time and wake up time etc. Ask children to develop a self- care plan by including actions on how can “I keep myself fit, how can I make myself happy, who are the people I trust” etc.
Engaging in activities builds strength, inculcates positive thinking and helps children develop self- confidence. You can ask your children to maintaining a gratitude jar – ask children to write one thing for which they are grateful on a piece of paper every night before going to bed. At the end of the week, read it out with them. This brings hope and gives a number of reasons which brings a smile to their face.
In fact, we realise that many children are facing these issues which is why UNICEF in partnership with Central Institute of Psychiatry, DWCD, Health and Education Department reached out to over 2100 children and other stakeholders including functionaries of child care institutions, teachers, health functionaries, NGO volunteers, Child Line and District Child Protection Unit staff, Child Welfare Committee, Juvenile Justice Board Members and Counsellors and oriented them on mental health and psycho-social sessions over the last two and a half months. We have also organised parenting week webinars and interviews to help parents provide support to their children to cope up.
One thing that connects us all is that we are all going through this crisis together and doing our best to adapt to the new reality. Focus and dedication on the mental health and wellbeing of children and caregivers is just as important as taking precautions against the virus. We are in this together.
The author is the Chief of UNICEF in Jharkhand