Parents need to allay anxieties in children due to COVID - SLACD | Sunday Observer
Prolonged lockdown and disruption of normal routines could cause children to become unhappy, angry

Parents need to allay anxieties in children due to COVID - SLACD

3 May, 2020

Covid- 19 has resulted in spiking fears and anxieties among all.Children are not spared either. In toddlers and schoolchildren especially the restricted movements the prolonged curfew hours have imposed has led to them expressing these fears in different ways. Adding to their fears is the physical and psychological abuse imposed on them by frustrated parents and care givers. All this could be serious obstacles to their development says the President of the Sri Lanka Association of Child Development Dr Saraji Wijesekera, emphasising the vital role that parents and care givers play in enabling optimal development in their children.

Excerpts of her interview with the Sunday Observer:      

 Q. The outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) is stressful for most people. Fear and anxiety about a disease can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in adults and children.  As President of the Sri Lanka Association of Child Development ( SLACD) tell us if you have seen a rise in fears and uncertainty among young children whose developing minds can’t understand why their normal life has been disrupted and are thus confused, worried and even angry?

A. Yes. There is so much fear and anxiety building in teenagers and children. Teenagers are uncertain on their education ,the upcoming examinations and other activities in school and academic places whereas  young children who were happy initially as they could spend more time with their parents who would have otherwise been at work,  become  frustrated after a while at  being home bound and unable to spend time outside with their friends.

 Q.  How do they express their fears and anxieties? With tantrums? Refusing to come outside the house for a breath of fresh air in the garden fearful that something bad is out there? Refusing to eat? Wanting their parents close to them constantly, even when the latter has to perform other chores?

A. Children express their fears in different ways. Some may throw a tantrum. But when they realize that their parents still haven’t understood what they want they may become withdrawn and depressed.

They may refuse to have their meals, or come out of their rooms . There could be fear of the disease itself, and fear that one of their loved ones could be vulnerable to the disease. Parents or caregivers may also find them getting in the way at times especially when they have to engage in essential household chores and if they are compelled to work in the essential services as well.

Q. What kind of psychological reactions do you generally see in 1) infants  2) toddlers? Primary schoolchildren due to long curfew hours and cornovirus fears?

A. Infants may not really understand the changes that may have occurred but may in some cases get closer attention by the parents who are locked down at the time.

The toddlers may be bewildered when they lose their play activities with their peer group due to restrictions in contact and inability to be outside their homes. 

As for primary schoolchildren who initially would have been happy they got a holiday could, with prolonged lock down become unhappy, angry, and show signs of withdrawal. Again they may experience fears about losing their contacts with playmates and playing and spending time outside home and visiting places.

Q. What methods do you recommend to  reassure  a frightened child? Listening to them? Playing games? Encouraging them to carry on their normal routines and hobbies?

A. To reassure a frightened child, first you would have to find the reason why they are scared. It is thus necessary to listen to them carefully.

Sometimes merely listening and trying to explain to them the situation may solve the issue, in some instances playing games with them spending time with them and engaging with their games, school work, might take away their boredom and fear. This is the ideal time for parents and carers to organize some hobbies like reading, playing indoor games and engage others stuck in the house with cooking, sewing, home gardening etc alongside them to help them to feel that they are important too.

Q. Cruelty to children has steeped during the COVID outbreak a report from the NCPA and UNICEF has reportedly said. How can this be prevented or minimised in children trapped inside their homes and subject to cruelty in different forms by their own parents, siblings, and other family members at this time when they can’t even report such incidents to the Childline set up for just this purpose? 

A. Yes in a minority this could happen especially when parents who engage in daily paid jobs lose their jobs at this specific time. We must understand that parents too are under immense stress to find food and provide daily essentials for their family when they don’t have the money to pay for them. So they could vent their frustration on the innocent child in many ways with physical and psychological abuse. We also have the situation where sibling rivalry could result in cruelty with the older siblings harassing the younger ones.

Child helpline in this situation could be of use but due to the prevailing situation there may be difficulty in children accessing those lines if there is only one phone in the house.

Q. What is the role of parents and family members in this respect?

A. Parents and elderly family members should identify the plight of children who may not be able to understand the situation in full and may wonder why all these regulations are set in. It is the duty of the adult to explain to them these new regulations in a language they could understand.  They could also allow children to watch the videos and dramas that the television broadcast in the childrens’ channels and programs explaining what COVID is and why these rules are in place.

Q. Children and youth who have an anxiety disorder may find the information about COVID-19 in the news and around them especially worrisome. What is the best way to correct misinformation so that they are reassured?  Who do you think should be the first point of contact they must establish? Parents? Caregivers? Or a professional  psychologist?

A. I feel the first point should be a familiar person to the child and someone who they could depend on.(parents/caregiver). If the parents and or the caregiver is not capable of sorting the issue using preliminary discussions and explanations with the child, a professional psychologist or a medical personnel would be useful.

However there may be instances where this facility may not be reachable. Help from an elderly knowledgeable person like a priest or a teacher could be sought with whom the child may be comfortable.

On the  other hand, older children sometimes tend to take on their parents worries e.g  fear their parents could lose their jobs due to this crisis What should parents tell  them to reassure them?

A. Yes, the bitter truth is that due to the economic crisis many temporary and daily paid jobs are at risk. Instead of venting their fears and frustrations on their children, they should reveal the true situation to their children and not hide the facts from them while reassuring them that there could be a chance to find another job according to the capabilities and this may be a temporary period that they may be experiencing. Training them to live under minimum conditions could help in the long run.

Q. What if a parent is unable to cope with the situation making it difficult for the children to cope too? Some parents go into depression when they are unable to cope. Others think of doing something desperate to themselves.   Do you have any hotlines for them just talk to someone and get advice, as they have in some countries?

A. People have different levels of coping strategies and if the parents are under stress they may go into depression which in turn would affect the children. General helplines on COVID 19 issues can be utilized to voice your concerns The general advices on media, social media and posters can be followed and government organized medical help and free consultations (via phone,whatsapp,viber, ODOC) can be utilised.

Q. How can parents use this time to support their children in their routine activities  and make them enjoyable  as well ,besides educating them  on basic lessons in self care and personal  hygiene to minimise COVID infection risks

A. Since most parents are at home with their families both mother and father can share the work to be with the children, especially  enjoyable new ways of keeping children active ,getting fresh air, playing music and singing while engaging with their school assessments.

The whole family can get together and play a game in the garden or play some board games to help children develop team spirit.  Training them on personnel hygiene like hand washing, bathing and other self care activites would definitely help them prevent getting the infection. Inculcate good habits like daily baths, cutting nails short, hand washing by being an example to them and rewarding the children on good work.

Q Your message to parents and caregivers on dealing with the COVID19 outbreak?

A. We all understand that this is a global problem and it has affected almost all the countries including the giants in the world who are in a worse situation than us. As Sri Lankans we will get together and defeat this situation in the near future. But until such time, we have to keep ourselves positive , have a clear  mind and not let our children suffer from any ill effects (physical and psychological) during this  temporary difficult period.