As COVID-19 has locked all the people in their respective homes, school-going children have been most affected with the restriction on place as they cannot go out to play or for any other activity.
Dr Rajesh Sagar, Professor, Department of Psychiatry, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) New Delhi and Member, Central Mental Health Authority explains the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of children and how it can be addressed.
In an interview, Dr Rajesh said children are delicate—physically as well as psychologically. Any form of stress, worry, trauma can affect them deeply and lead to long-lasting repercussions.
“The pandemic has altered their normal activities—their schools are shut; the education has shifted to online and their interaction with peers is restricted and limited. Besides, there are some who have lost one or both parents or relatives or caregivers,” he added.
All these factors can affect the mental wellbeing of children, depriving them of the emotionally fulfilling environment, important for their normal growth and development, he said.
Speaking on the challenge faced while dealing with distressed children, he said that to understand the mental health of children is not easy and it was crucial for adults to keep a vigil on the activities of children.
“Unlike adults, children react differently in stressful situations. Some children become clingy, some are withdrawn, some become aggressive, some depressed. So, it is difficult to understand the mental state of children. What we know is the fact that the surrounding environment affects the emotion or moods of children. At times, children internalise a situation. Panic, illness, or death of near and dear ones can affect them adversely and at times, they may not be able to express their fears, anxiety, or worries,” Dr Rajesh said.
Explaining further, he said that it is important for adults to keep a watch on the behaviour of children. During the current crisis, it is also important that adults encourage children to communicate their views, and perspectives on various issues related to them.
For children to be able to express themselves clearly, they must be provided with an enabling environment. If they are unable to talk, they can be encouraged to express themselves through drawing, paintings, and other mediums.
While speaking on the first five years of chid’s life, he said, “The first five years, indeed, are very crucial in a child’s life and we need to provide the child multi-modal stimulus. Lack of a positive environment, lack of stimulation, or social interactions can affect them adversely.”
While answering a questing on how would you counsel parents? He said that with the fine line between the workspace and personal space blurring, many parents are finding it difficult to deal with the added responsibility of looking after the academic needs of their children.
Children of every age group have different needs—they need, time, attention, engagement, resources, and a happy environment. A stressful environment at home can be a trigger for a mental health condition, but a safe environment can protect them from existing mental health concerns.
For parents to be able to engage children, they need to be in a positive frame of mind themselves. Parents need to find ways to calm themselves. They need to streamline their daily activities so that they can take out time for children.
Those who are unable to cope with the stress should seek support from family, friends, or professionals.