The Impact of COVID-19 on Children’s Mental Health

Children's Mental Health

During childhood, sound mental health is every bit as important as physical health for achieving developmental milestones. It helps children with their emotional well-being and social skills.

In addition, mentally healthy children function well at home, in school, and in their communities and have greater chances of leading a happy and successful life.  On the contrary, poor mental health during childhood can severely impact the way children learn, behave, or handle their emotions.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought a complex array of challenges which had mental health repercussions for everyone, including children and adolescents. Grief, fear, uncertainty, social isolation, increased screen time, and parental fatigue have negatively affected the mental health of children. Friendships and family support are strong stabilizing forces for children, but the COVID-19 pandemic has also disrupted them.

The mental health of millions of children worldwide has been put at risk, with at least one in seven forced to remain at home under nationwide public health orders – or recommendations – during the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 330 million youngsters have been stuck at home, till March 2021, for at least nine months, since the virus spread uncontrollably this time last year.

It has become difficult for parents to calm their children’s anxieties because of the uncertainty and stress in their own lives. The occupational or emotional challenges parents face is interfering with their usual ability to address their children’s needs and worries.
When will the school reopen? When can they go out and play? When can they visit their favourite places? These are some common questions that children may be worrying about.

Also Read: COVID-19 infection increases the risk of blood clots for one year, says Study

It is not unusual for children to experience negative emotions such as fear, disappointment, sadness, anxiety, anger, loss etc. But it is the prolonged, restrictive, and widespread nature of the COVID-19 pandemic that has exacerbated the situation. Increased screen time, strained family relations or sedentary lifestyle at home pose additional challenges.

  • Being a parent is a daily challenge and faced with the realities of COVID 19, social distancing and self-quarantine, it may be a struggle. For parents, the best way to help their children is to firstly take care of themselves.
  • Self-care during these times is not selfish because it enables the caregivers to be there for their children as a stable, calm and soothing parent. This way, parents will also be able to better understand their children and help them feel reassured, relaxed and focused.
  • It is important to be calm and proactive in your conversations with children – check in with them to see how they are doing. Their emotions will change regularly and you need to show them that’s okay.
  • Whether at school or at home, caregivers can engage children in creative activities, such as playing and drawing, to help them express and communicate any negative feelings they may be experiencing in a safe and supportive environment. This helps children find positive ways to express difficult feelings such as anger, fear or sadness.
  • As children often take their emotional cues from the key adults in their lives – including parents and teachers – it is important that adults manage their own emotions well and remain calm, listen to children’s concerns, speak kindly and reassure them.
  • Unattended mental health problems can disrupt children’s functioning at home, school and in the community. Parents and teachers should get equipped to detect and deal with early signs of mental health problems among children as they are the first to notice changes in a child’s emotions or behaviour.
  • Children and adolescents should also be encouraged to talk about their feelings and reach out to a trusted friend or family member. Early intervention can prevent long-term mental health consequences from this COVID-19 pandemic.

Mild signs of anxiety, such as difficulty in sleeping or concentrating, have become common. But children are very resilient, and most will manage to cope with parents and peers’ support.

However, some children are at greater risk of developing intense reactions, including severe anxiety, depression, and suicidal tendencies. Any pre-existing mental health problem, past traumatic experiences or abuse, family instability, or losing a loved one can make children highly vulnerable to developing severe mental health conditions.

Parents and caregivers know their children the best. If they notice a sudden significant difference in their child’s behaviour for more than a week, they must seek professional clinical help. Such behavioural symptoms change over time as the child grows:

  1. In children younger than five years: Thumb sucking, bedwetting, clinging to parents, sleep disturbances, loss of appetite, fear of the dark, regression in behaviour or withdrawal from interaction.
  2. In children between 5 to 10 years old: Irritability, aggressiveness, clinginess, nightmares, school avoidance, poor concentration, and withdrawal from activities and friends.
  3. In adolescents between 10 to 19 years old: Hyperactivity or fidgeting, sleeping, and eating disturbances, agitation, increased conflicts, physical complaints, delinquent behaviour, and poor concentration.

In these challenging times, make sure to create an environment of positivity at home to try to make children feel happy and relaxed.

Take care of yourself too – because if you are happy, your family will be happy.

Call CHILDLINE 1098 for assistance.

UNICEF India worked with leading mental health and child protection experts to produce this series of articles for parents on mental health and children.

Source: The Impact of COVID-19 on Children’s Mental Health



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