The COVID 19 Pandemic and the lockdown that has followed has led to fear & anxiety on the one hand and disruptions to life & work on the other hand. Continuing to work in spite of the disruptions is t a challenge faced by most people. Families with children face the added challenge of managing the children’s schedules as well as their questions, as the consequences of the Pandemic can make them anxious & stressed.
It would be unfair to ignore the mental health needs of parents, if they are to care for their children through these tumultuous times. It is but natural to feel overwhelmed while there is disruption, instability & uncertainty all around. The entire generation is facing this unprecedented time, for the first time. However, it should be reassuring to know that all of us are in this together! MHFA India team has developed this guideline aiming to support parents and children dealing with this unprecedented situation.
Parents & families need to be practical and realistic and not over-burden themselves with responsibilities. They should take care of their own needs too. Do inculcate a sense of calmness & positivity. Adapt to the new changes that are required. Have faith in the power of human resilience to survive this & thrive. You contribute by keeping your family safe & well - enjoy your family time as a bonus, with fun & laughter.
Mental Health First Aid India works at the National level providing the largest public oriented and evidence based, prevention and education program in the field of Mental Health. It aims to increase mental health literacy among the public in India, reduce stigma and bring about positive behavior towards early help seeking through training and research. The program is successfully running in India for the third year now. In a simple language just like we learn skills to help in case of physical crisis like doing CPR, one should learn how to identify mental health problems like depression, anxiety and be able to provide initial support to family members, colleagues and friends. MHFA India is based at Chennai, Tamil Nadu. You can learn more by visiting www.mhfaindia.com
- Reorganize the schedule for each member as well as for the family as a whole. Set a new routine for the children that includes all their activities like work, meals, play & sleep. Involving the children while setting their routine may help secure their cooperation in implementation.
- Set a routine with structured & unstructured activities like school-work time and play time. Make a routine of learning. Do remind the children that, while the schools are closed, learning is not!
- Children would miss their peers, friends, teachers & the school environment during these times. Do facilitate their interactions with their friends regularly. Several schools would also have facilitated some form of virtual classroom teaching by now.
- During these times, any contact with the outer world & people, or Learning & playing is either through a gadget (phone/laptop) or virtual platform. Therefore, increased screen time is inevitable. However, do set limits for their screen time. Insist on ‘real’ time with family members.
- It would be helpful to engage children in a mix of physical activities (within the safe zone), indoor games, puzzles & a range art & craft pursuits including imaginative play or enactments. All of these activities play a role in teaching valuable life skills to the children.
- It is very important to talk to the children about COVID 19 and its implications in an age appropriate manner. Give proper facts & explanations. Too much of information / analysis may not help.
- Teach them the relevant Do’s & Don’ts that they have to follow in future like need to wear a mask, maintaining social distancing, sneezing into one’s elbow, etc.
- Do address your child’s thoughts & feelings. Some of them may want to ask questions repeatedly as they are processing the new information. Listen to what they have to say. Intently. Answer honestly.
- Give them the information they seek. Do not avoid giving them explanations. Avoid getting irritated with their questioning.
- Do not belittle their fears & anxieties. It is normal for children to feel anxious with so much of change. Some children can become moody or irritable or tearful & clingy. Reassure your child that you are all safe. Explain to them that things can become better if they take proper care.
- Some of their behavior may require to be changed, while some others, maintained. Specify what you want changed or what they have done well. Eg., “I want you to tidy up after you play” or “I am happy about how you wash your hands thoroughly” than saying you have been good or bad today.
- Some children can express their anger, frustration or distress about the restrictions, by throwing tantrums or becoming aggressive. It is important to deal with such behavior in a calm but firm manner. Address their behavior
only, without condemning or labeling the child. Seek help of your G.P / Pediatrician / Counselor if the distress is severe or persistent or you see significant regress in their behavior.
- Talk to the children about their emotions. Be respectful and understanding. Enable them to open up and talk by creating a safe emotional environment.
For Teenagers in specific
While some of the points above are valid for more grown up kids too, while dealing with teenagers note the following :
- With teenagers, it is important to give them their personal space, in order to respect their growing individuality. Facilitate the process of setting their routine. However, set guidelines.
- Talk to your teenager about COVID 19 and the precautions to be followed. Explain why something is being done and how infection can spread. Stick to authentic facts. Also, check their source of information & discourage them from relying on unreliable sources of information.
- Encourage them to follow their hobbies or interests.
- Encourage them to indulge in some physical activity while indoors like spot exercises / stretches/ skipping, etc. Engage them in household chores.
- Be mindful about not nagging about their academics, future, etc.
- Teenagers often indulge in playing Online Games. Talk to them & communicate clearly what is not allowed. Set parental controls / monitor history if they are not cooperative. Be well informed about current fads among teens.
- Facilitate their Coping & Resilience Building: Fill your home environment with Hope & Positivity. Encourage them to be socially connected & responsible.
- Teenagers can become anxious in the current situation. Learn to recognize their feelings and talk about it. Encourage them to journal their thoughts & feelings. Seek professional help if it is too overwhelming.