Mohd. Naushad Khan , Journalist from Delhi
There is a famous saying by Haim Ginott, “Children are like wet cement. Whatever falls on them makes an impression.” Similarly Covid-19 pandemic is also most likely to make an impression on the children either psychically or mentally. But are we prepared for it or we contended that the online classes are more than enough to address the impact of lockdown and the paranoia of Covid-19 simmering in the minds of the children. Should we not find the impact of Covid-19 on the psychology of children in India? Will researchers and policy makers ever think on it?
The declaration of Covid 19 as a pandemic by WHO has affected all ages and segments of population across the globe both physically and mentally. The mental health impact is a simmering volcano waiting to erupt as we are busy controlling the physical manifestations. Children below the age of 18 years have been affected at various levels as they are the vulnerable population in a society. The measures of quarantine, isolation, closure of schools, parks and sports complexes has adversely affected the ‘normal’ lives of children. Even though children are considered resilient and quick adaptors to situations, yet there are issues that if not addressed timely leave a lasting imprint on their developing psyche. Not only India, there has been a rise in domestic violence incidences the world over during the lockdown.
Dr. Alok Mishra, Joint Secretary, Association of Indian Universities AIU and former CEO, Brain Behaviour Research Foundation of India (BBRFI) said, “Children are the silent sufferers of this pandemic. India being a complex socioeconomic country, children are facing hunger, lack of health access, fear, anger and sadness as their definition of ‘normal life’ has changed too. Then there is quarantine, isolation, sanitary methods including masks which are overwhelming their stressed out minds! They are at risk of being ignored and or subjected to violence due to the financial, physical and mental stressors being faced by elders of the house. Their mental health has to be taken care of with utmost priority to prevent its translation into psychological issues later on in life.”
‘The common manifestations of childhood mental health issues include disturbed eating habits, irritability, excessive crying, bedwetting in toddlers and young children. In older children there might be altered eating and sleeping habits, irritability, arguments with parents, may appear withdrawn- these earliest symptoms need to be recognised and tackled at the initial stages itself. With online activities taking precedence in present times, too much screen exposure may end up in aggravating eye problems, fatigue and worsening of existing eye problems. Another least talked about issue is the especially abled children who would be facing additional stress and aggravation of their existing deficiencies due to compromised care. There are educational videos available for parents for self- help along with counselling services offered free of cost of which BBRFI is also a part. In extreme cases where these measures don’t work it is important to take the child for consultation with psychologists,’ said Dr. Meena Mishra, Chairperson, Brain Behaviour Research Foundation of India (BBRFI).
Management of child’s emotions during a shutdown is a ‘necessary challenge’ for parents as they themselves have to be in a healthy frame of mind and body before they can help their children. Parents often get so overwhelmed with their children’s emotional avoidance behaviours that they counter-respond to their children with more extreme avoidance reactions like giving angry expressions, spanking and shouting instead of giving the right ‘approach responses’ like listening and talking. Researches in child development have already proven that verbal abuse and harsh tone and pitch in way parents talk to their children have an adverse impact on the developing prefrontal cortex region of children’s brains.
Parents therefore themselves must realize and if necessary, seek professional psychological help and learn the art of positive and mindful parenting. This is the time to remember the positive parenting formula ‘connection before correction’ to calm the anxious and agitated children forced to thrive within four walls of their homes. The lockdown must be perceived as the time when parents must rebuild attachment with their children by actually sitting with them and listening to them with empathy and attention, to figure out what they are thinking and how they are feeling. Unless parents are not able to identify and understand their children’s emotional needs, it would be very difficult for them to help their children with better coping strategies during this time.
“Living in the confines of lockdown is not a child’s play, certainly not for a child. A child’s psycho physiological growth is to a large extent influenced with the experience a child has with outer world. A famous classic theory from child psychology explains that the primary ecosystem of a child which is the family, naturally must interact with other ‘Microsystems’ like the school, community and neighbourhood in order to direct a child’s physical and psychological growth chart. But unfortunately it is the interacting Microsystems or ‘Mesosystem’ as the theory calls it, which has come to an abrupt halt during this global lockdown,” said Dr. Fouzia Al Sabah Sheikh, Honorary Research Fellow, Centre for Evidence-based Policy, Practice and Interventions (CEPPI)
“A natural smooth psycho-physiological growth for children is therefore hard to imagine as they miss out the regular home-school routine, playing with peers, evening play time in neighbourhood and even daily interacting with community helpers. A child’s body is the centre of restless energy and a mind brimming with endless questions about the self and the world. Children constantly seek answers to their questions and look for a caring, happy non-judgmental surrounding to expend their physical energies through play and social interactions. With the ‘mesosystem’ crumbling down a child will always seek answers to questions why no school? Why no going outside? How long will we stay indoor? A shut down situation is likely to trigger the intensity and frequency of ‘”avoidance” responses like crying, aggressive behaviour, and tantrums among children, said Fouzia.
“Education industry during the corona virus lockdown has understood the importance of the child’s right to learn by imparting school education through virtual /remote learning system; many schools are yet to understand the importance of looking after the emotional needs of the young children. Many schools are yet to understand and embrace the idea of spreading mental health care services like online counselling to both distressed parents and vulnerable children. A bigger challenge awaits the children gaining virtual education from their schools, the onset of summer break and uncertainty hanging upon the lockdown duration,” said Ilma Khowaja, student counsellor.