COVID-19 pandemic and mental health problems in children and adolescents

With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world has come to a standstill. Families around the world are experiencing several changes in their daily lives due to the pandemic. The educational institutions remain closed and parents learn to get used to the ‘new normal’.

Pandemics affect both physical and mental health. With very little understanding of the event, children are more vulnerable to these situations. Because they have fewer coping strategies compared to adults, children find it difficult to adapt to the situation. Being cooped up in one place for long periods of time and surrounded by the same group of people can cause anxiety and stress in children.

Impact of containment measures on children’s mental health

Like any other country, India has asked its citizens to practice social distancing to curb the spread of the coronavirus. The fear of infection, disruption of daily activities and social distancing from friends have affected children’s mental health. While containment measures are necessary, their effect is likely to be detrimental to both children and adolescents.

Stress and anxiety in children of different age groups

Children of different age groups react differently to stressful situations. Older children or adolescents may seem more understanding, while younger children may feel confused or irritable.

Younger children

Younger children may show their stress in ways that can be interpreted by parents as a tantrum or misbehavior. You may also notice that your children become more aggressive or have trouble concentrating during their routine activities, such as playing.

Some children may appear more clingy or demanding and experience problems sleeping. The sleep pattern disruption may be due to trouble sleeping at night, experiencing frequent nightmares, or waking up multiple times.

Older children or adolescents

Older children may get angry because they miss social gatherings, meet their friends, or play sports outside. Between the ages of twelve and nineteen, maintaining social relationships is one of the most important events in life. This can make staying at home difficult for these children.

Combined with the hormonal changes in adolescents, isolation at home with their parents can be a very challenging task. They can show anger, frustration, and nervousness, among other things. Some children may develop obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) from constantly having to keep themselves and their environment clean at such times.

Children with a pre-existing mental illness

Children with a pre-existing mental illness may react very differently to a situation like a pandemic. Children with anxiety or depression can be inundated with a range of emotions with the news of people dying around the world. At such times, a child with pre-existing OCD can get worse.

In children with psychiatric disorders, the illness condition combined with the fear of being confined to an enclosed space (such as a room or house) can become traumatic.

Strategies to help children cope with this difficult situation

Be a role model

In stressful situations, children turn to adults for guidance in dealing with problems. If you panic and are stressed, the child will have the same reaction. Try to stay calm in front of the child and give them all the support they need.

Explaining COVID-19 and social distancing

By staying at home, children always have access to technology. Social media platforms can spread unverified or false information that can negatively affect the child. Talk to your child and explain everything you think you need to know about the current situation. Don’t burden them with unnecessary information.

Have a daily routine

Now that educational institutions are closed, your children will be spending a lot of time at home. Help them establish a new routine and make sure they stick to it. You can ask them to help with the housework, study, learn a new skill and connect with friends virtually. This creates a sense of predictability and control in the children.

Monitor time spent on electronic devices

This is an important strategy to help children cope with the pandemic. Continued updates on the COVID-19 can increase anxiety and fear. If children are given access to information intended for adults, it can cause confusion or nervousness, especially in younger children. Spending too much time on gadgets can also harm their health, such as eyesight.

Be accurate and honest

Children tend to imagine situations that may not even be related to reality. Answer all their questions with patience and provide the correct facts.

Provide age-related information

If you have younger children, give them simple and brief information about the situation. Reassure them that if they get sick, they will be taken care of. Explain to them the importance of washing hands and keeping them clean regularly. Use more straightforward language and avoid using big and complicated words; they might find it scary.

If your kids are in high school, you may need to provide a little more detailed explanation of the situation. This group of children is often curious and asks many questions. So make sure you answer each question with the correct answer. Discuss how the country is taking steps to ensure the infection does not spread. Explain to them what would happen if the infection spreads in your area. Keep the tone friendly.

If you have teenagers, discuss the issues with them thoroughly. You can also provide them with reliable sources where they can find out more about the situation themselves. Reassure them that if they need help understanding a particular issue, you will be available. Keep them involved in family conversations and decisions.

Know the symptoms of COVID-19

Monitor your children’s health symptoms. The common symptoms of COVID-19 are:

  • A fever
  • fatigue
  • shortness of breath
  • Loss of taste and smell
  • Cough

If you notice symptoms that may be related to COVID-19, see a doctor immediately.

Call 1860-500-1066 to make an appointment

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