Anxiety, depression, boredom, disorientation, and frustration- the negative repercussions of COVID- 19 on the human psyche are perhaps limitless. When the onslaught of the pandemic has destabilized even the most pragmatic and balanced adults, one can easily understand how difficult actually it has been for young children (primarily in the age group of four to fourteen) to cope and grapple with a completely unprecedented reality. However, it is not surprising that many parents of young children will counter this statement. For it is true that many children, infact most have coped very well. During lockdowns many parents have proudly narrated how their child has never complained about not going outdoors, unquestioningly resigned to the idea of not meeting their friends for an indefinite period and even developed new skills while at home. Perhaps it is wise to question ourselves- Are they truly showing what they are feeling and thinking?
According to Seema Choudhury, a child psychologist, some young children have a tendency to mask their anxieties under behavior that is actually more mature an unexpected for their age. This repression is definitely unhealthy and cause conflicts at a later stage. Therefore it is imperative to have impromptu chats with a child to understand how he or she is really processing the reality of the situation. On the other hand, some children are openly expressing their disappointment over the fact that their normal routines have been disrupted by the ongoing pandemic. Temper tantrums, disobedience and emotional outbursts are common in this category. Now the question is- Should a child become repressed or withdrawn or angry and obstinate? Obviously neither.
Parents have a huge role in ensuring the mental stability and calm of their children in these testing times. "Parents who are overly paranoid of the pandemic are subconsciously instilling a fear psychosis in their children," explains Choudhury. "It is important to understand that most young children are not aware of what coronavirus really means. The corona monster hence needs to be realistically demystified. Parents and elders of the house should explain the seriousness of the virus in a non intimidating way. Misconceptions and fears need to be addressed and the child needs to be assured that he or she is safe by following the basic hygiene and social distancing rules," she adds. It is also a good idea to apprise them about the vaccine that is being developed.
Talking about how paranoid parents are adversely impacting children, Radhika Bora says, "In our apartment there is a 14 year old boy called Sudipto. He lives with his parents and since the day the first national lockdown was declared nobody has seen him. Forget stepping out of the house he doesn't even appear on his balcony." Apparently Sudipto's father is a retired medical practitioner and he and his wife are known to be hypochondriacs.
Some young children have a tendency to mask their anxieties under behavior that is actually more mature an unexpected for their age.According to mental health experts children need structure and routine even more than adults. And the pandemic has dealt a colossal blow to their routine as schools have been shut for six months now. "Going to school is actually a form of discipline more than anything else for a child. It is also a place for developing interpersonal skills," says Choudhury. Needless to say not going to school and also not having the opportunity to play (and interact) with children in the neighborhood during this much stretched period is denting their social skills and causing a slew of problems. "Children are bored, lonely and some are becoming selfish and self-centered too," rues Choudhury. So what is the solution? "Well once in a while it is important to take a child to his or her best friend's or favourite cousin's house. Ofcourse the broad rules of physical distance and hygiene need to be adhered," opines Bora. Children being only restricted to the indoors is ofcourse a huge concern. Fresh air and exercise is necessary and therefore parents or elders should accompany them for walks or just treat them to the occasional long drive. Tending to plants in a terrace, balcony or garden patch is hugely therapeutic in such times.
Today a teeming number of schools, particularly private schools are delivering online classes. "While the logic of online classes is justified because of the situation one has to understand that online classes can never replace offline classes. Therefore these online classes need to be spaced out (not back to back classes everyday like a normal school day)," shares Choudhury. Interestingly many people in India have rightly pointed out that online classes have been the most unfair thing that has happened to the Indian education system. After all not everyone has the hardware and internet to support it. And at the end of the day, let's not forget that technological ease is not every child's forte. Some brilliant and analytical children might not be comfortable with technology while some not so academically inclined children can have bright minds when it comes to adopting technology. There is also a red flag while exposing your child to uncensored internet time as it is strewn with inappropriate and even dangerous content. "It's important to apprise children of what they should be cautious about and a broad etiquette of online behavior. Parents need to subtly monitor their online behavior," says Chowdhury.
In any case conventional curriculum learning is not the only learning a child needs. While staying at home, a child can acquire a range of practical skills and knowledge that will stand them in good stead later on in life. For instance some children are now learning how to cook, sew and garden while some others are simply reading about subjects of their liking (from birds and animals to constellation and galaxies) in illustrated books and encyclopedias. "My daughter has learnt how to administer insulin to her grandmother and my son has learnt to change the car tires," shares Dipankar Goswami a proud father of a twelve and fourteen year old.
A word of caution to the parents here!Every child is unique in terms of his/her disposition, sensibilities and aptitude. What works for one might not work for another. Chowdhury agrees and explains, "Just because some children are acquiring skills during the stay-at-home period it does not mean that there is any problem with the ones who are choosing to just be and take it easy. For instance some children like to journal and paint to express their emotions while many others have entirely different mechanisms of coping and dealing with their emotions and conflicts. What however is important is that parents and guardians understand that today every child (just like every adult) is experiencing a certain degree of stress and uncertainty irrespective of his/her coping skills and apparent behavior. Hence it is important to be emotionally present for the child so that he/she can express everything without the fear of being judged. In the end it's all about reassurance that everything about them and the world around is fine or going to be!