A primer for parents in the time of coronavirus

To deal with Covid-19, the government is undertaking strict measures of social distancing and quarantine. People suspected of being exposed to the infection are isolated and the rest have been asked to follow social distancing. Although these measures are in the benefit of the community at large, the psychological effects of lockdown on children cannot be ignored.

With restricted mobility and social distancing, children will experience social isolation and loss of connectedness with peers leading to subjective alienation. As children have limited resources to understand the complexities of social situation, their incapability to understand the present scenario during coronavirus pandemic and the necessity of measures like social distancing, lockdown and quarantine may lead to frustration and outburst of temper tantrums.

The pandemic has also led to children missing out their school and classes, which will can directly affect their physical as well as mental health. Disrupted daily routine with no sense of structure and environmental stimulation may cause an increasing number of children to feel anxious, depressed and lonely. In this scenario children will need special attention. During the formative years of life, the role of parents is crucial.

Children exposed to negative emotions are at a higher risk of developing acute stress disorder, adjustment disorder and feelings of sadness and grief. In times of stress, poor parenting can have long-term adverse effects on the mental health of children, making them more vulnerable to developing mood disorders, psychosis and suicide in adulthood.

With the ongoing period of uncertainty and stress amid Covid-19, parents act as significant protective factors. Therefore, it becomes increasingly important for all parents to practise “Attuned Parenting”. Attunement refers to a state of awareness where parents pay attention to the feelings of the child and become responsive. In times of stress, children may find it difficult to express verbally and their underlying feelings may manifest itself physically, behaviourally and/or cognitively in the form of anger outburst, defiance, sleep problems and psychosomatic complaints.

Thus the parents’ role is to observe for sign of distress and related feelings. With the help of a few activities, parents can address negative feeling of the child and foster positivity and sense of well-being. Circle time: In this activity all members of a family sit together for 30 min with the aim to discuss feelings of each members individually. Each family member gets a chance to speak about his/ her feelings. With younger children, this activity can be modified wherein the child is asked to draw.

A jar of gratitude: Every day the parents will ask the child to write one thing they are thankful for and then put this in a jar labelled gratitude. At the end of the week, the jar is opened and the chits are read aloud to the child. The worry bin: A proven way of catharsis is to write the disturbing thoughts on a sheet of paper and dispose it away. Parents will teach the child to make a note of negative feelings on a sheet of paper, then to crumple it and throw it in the bin.

The aim is to teach the child that as he throws the negative feeling into the bin, the child is unloading himself of the distress. Circle of control: Parents can sit with their children and help them design their circle of control which is subdivided into two parts. Inner circle represents the things the child can control like self-care, practising hobbies, limiting longer exposure to screen time, being kind to others; the outer circle represents things which are out of control like the Covid-19.

The aim is to provide perspective, teaching kids to focus on things under their control. High Five: With this activity parents can teach their kids different ways to manage their stress. Parents can demonstrate this by use of hands wherein each fingers represents a unique way to reduce stress.

The five techniques to be communicated to children can be: deep breathing, counting backwards from 100, spending time to enrich hobbies and interests, focusing on positives, and limiting screen time. Storytelling: With this activity parents can put their creativity at work and create a story with fictional characters exhibiting qualities of resilience and positivity in stressful times, thereby encouraging the child to imbibe similar values. The writer is a psychologist.

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