Nepal | July 12, 2020

Aren’t children the masked victims of COVID-19?

Dr Sadhana Budhathoki
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The prevailing COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in social distancing, quarantines, and isolation in an attempt to flatten the transmission and mortality curve. Majority of children across the world are living under such restrictions due to this pandemic.

They are not able to play with their friends in open grounds, go to amusement parks and participate in social gatherings. Many countries have shuttered schools and colleges so that the children do not face the evil physiognomy of the coronavirus. According to an analysis by UNICEF, the education of nearly 1.6 billion children in 190 countries has so far been affected.

Mass quarantine and isolation measures have estranged children from their parents. For instance, in a country like Nepal, where major proportion of the country’s economy is buttressed by remittance, majority of parents work abroad. On one hand, the nation is not paying enough attention to bring them back after they wished to return home due to loss of jobs or fear of the disease, while on the other, even if they are brought, they are kept in quarantine facilities in an unscientific manner. This has created confusions in the families which has had a direct impact on the children’s mental health.

Another problem the children are facing is disorientation. Before the lockdown, they had a fixed routine of having breakfast, going to school, playing with friends, studying, returning home, doing homework, watching cartoons, so on and so forth. In other words, there was a set of predetermined tasks. However, after shutting down of schools with no estimated date of re-opening, the inertia of habits has disoriented them.

They want to go to school but they can’t go, they want to play with their friends which they cannot. Therefore, they get frustrated and indulge themselves in activities like watching TV or playing games on the mobile phone. This subconsciously makes the child idle and out of touch with time. Inculcating bad habits and struggling with good habits may happen at this stage.

Likewise, not all children respond to stress in the same way; every child has a unique personality trait. Some tend to become too frightened, the effect of which is seen in their daily activities like altered feeding habits, insomnia, among others. While others tend to be more aggressive and demanding to the parents, some kids are very smart and can easily read the psychology of their elders: they can interpret their parents’ expressions and become very co-operative or vice versa. Nevertheless, care should be taken of impressionable children who can impress long term trauma in their minds owing to the pandemic.

However, every problem is backed by a solution. Following these steps can lessen the hazardous impact of the pandemic on the mental health of the youngsters.

Deal with your own anxiety before talking to children

You are always a role model for your offspring. So you should try to remain positive and calm because they watch you. If they see you consistently worried and anxious, they will imitate your action thinking that it is the proper way to handle stress. This can have a long term negative impact because as soon as the children encounter stress, they automatically start to panic. Hence, be composed and teach them the same.

Try to answer all their ‘whys’

Children are inquisitive beings. They have already figured out about the virus to some extent from social media, television, family conversions, etc. They become curious to know more about it. Hence, they tend to ask questions about the coronavirus persistently. Our responsibility is not to avoid replying to them nor feeding them with wrong information. Give a try to satiate their mental hunger. Unless and until they get their answers, they will not stay quiet. They try to find the answer to their questions from other sources which can misguide them. Tell them everything in a way they are able to understand it — provide them clear age-appropriate information. Make them habituated to following authentic news sources.

Give them an opportunity to express their feelings

The best way to open up their mind is to express your own feelings. This creates a comfortable environment that favours the expression of their thoughts as well. Talk friendly and honestly with your children. This helps them to lighten up.

Design an appropriate schedule for them

As they are staying home all day, not going to school, have restricted outdoor activities, and do not have interaction with friends, they can inculcate unhealthy habits like irregular sleeping pattern, consuming unhealthy foods, over-watching of television, playing games in mobile phones, among others. So parents should design a schedule and motivate the children to stick to it.

To conclude, the COVID-19 pandemic has focused our attention in one direction – the number of new cases each day and the number of mortality in the past 24 hours. We try to save ourselves and our family from this dreadful disease. But centering all the energy in this direction fail to prevent psychological symptoms in our children. We have to divide this energy to address the concerns of our children and guide them on a proper path in order to prevent them from being disoriented.

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