We were nearing the end of the lockdown, but along came an extension. In the current scenario, it was expected. But are we prepared?
These are not the best of times, nor the best of circumstances.
Rather, these are trying circumstances we haven’t faced before. Everyone is trying their best to make meaning out of the situation.
There is a collective meaning which the community as a whole makes of the scenario and then there is the meaning we make at our own individual level.
Extraordinary situations bring out varying emotions and behaviours in all of us which are not seen otherwise, attributed to these very circumstances.
There are a lot of psychological support groups that have emerged during these trying times and are so important right now.
Emotions like frustration, irritability, anger, lack of purpose, anxiety will happen. These may be more pronounced or may be entirely new to you. And it cannot be stressed enough, that it is alright to experience these.
Right now, as a mental health professional, the advice would be to seek help if you are experiencing frequent and more pronounced negative emotions. If you don’t have anyone in your close circle you feel comfortable talking to then please seek out the mental health professionals whose numbers have been circulating for support. And please be assured that it is absolutely ok to reach out. Because this is something new that we as a race are facing together.
Children and the lockdown
As adults in the society facing this self-isolation and lockdown, there is a lot of talk going on about how to support individuals in caring for their mental health, very rightly so. However, another group that requires attention is our children and adolescents.
How are they dealing with this? As parents, I am certain that you are doing all you can, to support your child in these trying times.
We may assume that children are enjoying this extended holiday. I would also probably be overjoyed if I was a school going kid to hear that I don’t have to go to school in the middle of the school session!
But we would all agree that the circumstances under which they are at home are very different. They are confined to the home this time. No summer camps, classes, tuitions, meeting friends etc. Sometimes children do cope better and are more resilient compared to some adults. However, again, children, teenagers respond differently to extraordinary circumstances. These abnormal circumstances may present to be stressful for few of our children, then there are those who already tend to be anxious about change, diseases, who are differently-abled and children with underlying mental health concerns.
Things you can do to build resilience and help children cope
Generally speaking, here are some things that are different during this lockdown and can be stressful:
Children generally do not have a routine to follow.
They get to see their otherwise office going, busy parents all the time or in cases of healthcare workers, they don’t see them much compared to before.
There is so much free time (some schools have initiated online classes which is in a positive direction) and limited things to do in this free time.
There is uncertainty about when schools will reopen.
Teens in their crucial academic years have to deal with an added uncertainty about their impending boards or competitive exams.
The above-mentioned points are common to most children. And considering the fact that each child will respond in his/her unique way to the current situation, and differences in each child’s coping strategies, providing support to our children and adolescents in these times must be the first step in ensuring their positive mental health and resilience in general.
Dealing with specific challenges as an outcome of the lockdown would require telephonic consultation with a mental health professional.
Stay home stay safe
These are some ways in which you can prepare children to face the lockdown which may, in turn, reduce the possible negative effects of stressors during these times.
As mentioned earlier, I am certain that as parents or caregivers, you are already doing your best in this direction. I would like to share a few things with you, some of which you probably are already doing and some might be in addition to that:
Talk to your child if he/ she can understand about the COVID-19. Why there is the lockdown and what precautions to take, like hand hygiene etc.
Children are sensitive and perceptive to their parents and elders around them. Maintaining a routine yourself will give some structure to the child. Similarly, try to subtly create a routine for your child too. It may not be essential to make a timetable to follow (unless your child prefers that) but generally, structure the day in such a way that the child feels there is a sense of order to his day. Include time for self-study too in their day.
Try to be calm around adverse news and negative media. These days we are glued to our channels following the news, or social media about incidents around the country. It would be advisable to remain calm and instead, help your child process whatever is happening (if they are in the age where you can have a conversation). Of course, you cannot and need not explain all the details of any incident to the child, but if he/she has questions address them in a positive way. Tell that we need to take care of our health, hygiene and that people are recovering with the efforts of doctors.
Take out some time to spend with your child. There are a number of activities you can initiate with your child during these times. In fact, what better time than now to get to know your child and his/her interests? There are many fun art-based activities that one can find online.
This would be a good time to explore concepts of science and experiments in a practical way at home. Get involved in these too. Art, Storytelling, dance, collage making, music, games are some of the areas you can explore with your child. These may be centred around their feelings these days, their interests etc.
Leave them free. Yes, give them the opportunity, rather the need to find something to do other than playing on the mobile in their free time. Let them find creative ways to pass time.
Be aware of the amount of time they spend online and also how they spend their time online. Monitoring their screen time (mobile and TV) will be necessary. It shouldn’t be taking up maximum of their time.
Be aware of any changes in behaviour, moods, sleep and appetite. Note any changes and also the frequency of the changed behaviour or mood. If you find changes in the behaviour which were not present before, or if previous challenging behaviours are pronounced then do get in touch with a mental health practitioner.
Assure them that this will come to an end sooner or later, which we all hope it will and we believe. And don’t forget to appreciate their efforts, acknowledge the fact that they are coping with this lockdown too.
Where teenagers are concerned, provide them with a safe space to share their anxieties and worries, by being good listeners, acknowledging their feelings.
Handhold them, rather than being directive. Together, you can arrive at a plan or routine to follow. Set small weekly academic goals. If they wish to include other activities, plan with them how to manage time or ask them to develop a plan and share it with you. Allow them to connect with their friends and schoolmates, online or on the phone, once in a while. Peer group plays an important role in coping.
If you are a parent who is a healthcare warrior, and have to leave your child behind, here are some things in addition to the things you are doing which can be suggested:
If possible, explain in brief/ as a story what your duties are, and how frequently you will be seeing them.
You could mutually decide on somethings they can do/make (drawing/craft/collage) while you are away, which you would be looking forward to seeing when you meet them. Express your appreciation for them.
Video call whenever you get the time.
You could also encourage them to write letters about their day to you which you could read together when you are back.
Lastly, but one of the most important things, is your own well-being. Being a parent, you want to do everything possible for your child. Sometimes, ignoring your own health, and in this case your mental health.
The fact is, you need to take care of yourself first. Like how they say in airplanes, to put on your oxygen mask first before putting it on your child or someone else. Children, as mentioned before, are very perceptive to parents’ energies, both positive and negative. They are affected by your emotional state, your health, the way you carry yourself. Hence, it is important that you yourself are aware of your state of mind in these times and take care of your mental well-being too.
As parents, caregivers, children we are all in this situation together. And there is a need to take care of your mental health and that of near and dear ones during these times apart from physical health etc. Let’s support each other through this and believe that we will see the light of day. I believe we will come out stronger and more connected with each other and with nature. Stay Home Stay Safe!
Priyanka Konsam Haobam is a Licensed Rehabilitation Counselor and Child Psychologist at Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences (JNIMS), Imphal, Manipur.
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