When A is for Anxiety and B is for Boredom...

  Parul D. Mendiratta |     July 1, 2021

What is the effect of corona and the lockdown on the mental state of children?

This pandemic has been a rollercoaster ride for all those who have lived it. For children, this has been something that neither they nor their parents had ever known. All spheres of their lives are affected. The major pillar of scaffolds in a child’s life include— his/her parents (or caregivers), immediate environment, school, the self, and social sphere.

Major instability in each of these has taken a huge toll on our children's mental health. There are rising concerns of temper tantrums, anxiety, existential queries, confusion and hopelessness, rendering them unable to figure a way out. As they consider adults as guides, they feel more disillusioned as even the adults are unable to offer them convincing answers in this lockdown-situation.

Hence, the child’s self is pushed towards an extreme instability. The children are unable to make sense of the present. They can’t even foresee a sure future, with regard to—what it would look like, how soon, and when, if at all. Their social growth has varied immensely. This is directly aligned with the belief systems of their parents now. However, before the lockdown, their social growth was somewhat independent of their parent’s beliefs. 

A new kind of socialization has taken shape with the ‘www’ being the New Normal. The lack of personal connect, distance from peers, absence of physical teachers, disappearance of tangible schools, restricted spaces to play, etc.—are definitely going to create new mental schemas within children. Example:

  • Sanitation = safety
  • Open spaces ≠ safe spaces
  • Home = confinement

How do we detect if a child is under stress?

Children’s stress is displayed in very different ways as compared to that of adults. In most cases, because of improper language or behavioural repertoire (meaning a stock of something, here it means the kind of behaviour a child has developed till now) their stress translates into physiological symptoms. Some common indicators of their stress are as follows.

  • Lack of or too much sleep for more than 15 days
  • Appetite changes for 15 days–2 months
  • Anhedonia (meaning, inability to feel pleasure about normally enjoyable activities)
  • Lethargy for 10–15 days
  • Irritability or crankiness 
  • Insistence for isolation
  • Disturbed bowels 
  • Frequent headaches
  • Gastritis (refers to stomach related problems)
  • Skin-related concerns

Needless to say, these are all broad categories. All children are different and may display symptoms as per their subjective temperamental composition.

How does the loss of a near and dear one disturb a child emotionally?

Unlike the common perception that children can't emotionally experience pain because they can't intelligently comprehend a situation, any grief and loss impacts them deeply. Their emotions are full of confusion, mostly because the real trail of events is concealed from them. So, their mind is unable to connect the dots.

Often, parents hide deaths from children. In such cases, they either come across the news accidentally or figure it out themselves. Thereafter, their suffering is heightened by confusion, anger, mistrust, blocking of emotional expression, etc. Even in cases where there is fair disclosure, the discussion around death remains mostly confidential. This again impacts children negatively.

Our childhood experiences set a bedrock for our emotional experiences throughout our lifetime. Research shows that when natural pain-related experiences of grief, sadness, loss, and hurt come to a child in a safe and open space, there is healthier acceptance of the event. They timely let-go of the incidence and move on by accepting the loss. However, when the pain does not approach them naturally, these life occurrences keep the grown-up self unsure of—what to do, how to cope, whom to talk to, what to feel—and other such internal interrogations.

According to you, how should we help children suffering from homesickness and too much house arrest?

The present times are extraordinarily challenging. Many of us resort to negative actions primarily because we don't know what else to do or we don’t have a choice! The pandemic has brought about a lot of hopelessness and helplessness, and the exhaustion of coping with hopes and uncertainty is driving us in various directions. All this is indeed impacting the children adversely.

Awareness is the foundation for introducing any improvement. We should first learn about our children’s experiences by empathizing with them. This is possible if we avoid using preset labels for their behaviour. Such unlearning would open spaces and help the parents in perceiving them in a non-judgmental manner. Here, the kids can enjoy their freedom of expression and can also be permitted to ‘no expression’ if they don’t feel like, without feeling any stress or suffocation. This will help in establishing an authentic connection with them.

Confinement is surely necessary given the current scenario but we can still provide freedom within lockdown to our children. This freedom and its execution should definitely include the child's say. Many times, the understanding of freedom for an adult and a child can be at variance. Children feel safe and free when,

  •  they are included in decisionmaking. 
  • they are trusted.
  • their parents don't monitor them constantly and, of course, don’t neglect them too. 
  • their demands and choices are honestly respected even if not completely fulfilled.

These parental actions can go a long way towards achieving their child’s holistic wellbeing. If any parent feels that their child is displaying pathological or physiological issues then he/she must connect with a psychologist.

About the Author

She is a counselling psychologist and psychotherapist

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