Effect of Pandemic on Children’s brain & the role of parents

Since the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic, One of the most significant public health measures implemented has been extended periods of ‘lockdown’ where whole populations have been advised to remain in their households other than to collect necessary supplies or, to care for others.

Social isolation, removal from school and daily routines, as well as isolation and loss of loved ones associated with illness, are some of the top stressors children are facing.

Like so many adults, our children are also feeling the impacts of so much uncertainty around how long the pandemic will go on for….

This article is focused on a very significant topic prevailing during these times - How the pandemic is affecting the mental health of children and their parents and what we can do about it.

A study found 85.7% of parents reported changes in their children’s emotions and behaviors during the quarantine. The most frequently observed changes were difficulty concentrating (76.6%), boredom (52%), irritability (39%), restlessness (38.8%), nervousness (38%), loneliness (31.3%), uneasiness (30.4%), and worries (30.1%). About 75% of parents reported feeling stressed about the quarantine situation. Parental stress was associated with increased reports of emotional and behavioral symptoms in their children.

Also, for children with special needs, lockdown has been even more challenging affecting their mental health due to a lot of factors causing stress, anxiety, depression, leading to irritability & different kinds of behavioral changes ( like self harm, severe tantrums, low self esteem, and many more…).

Why these kind of changes are seen in children ?

  • Changes in their daily routine lives causing a sense of insecurity.
  • No School- deprives them of their social interaction, engaging in active learning and meaningful play leading to boredom, loneliness, insecurity, low self esteem.
  • Fear of sickness of themselves or their loved ones.
  • Less engagement in outside play activities- which is very very essential part of their life- crucial for their physical, mental, social, cognitive, development ; therefore affecting all these areas.
  • Online sessions & academic expectations.
  • Outing during vacation or even weekends are also restricted, causing a huge mental stress in them.

When we talk about children with special needs, there is even a greater risk of mental health issues due to the following reasons:-

  • First of all, kids with special needs usually have a hard time coping with any small changes in their daily routine, and due to long periods of lockdown there has been huge changes in their routine all of a sudden leading to stress, anxiety and depression…
  • Kids with special needs are usually engaged throughout the day in school and various therapy sessions. When all of a sudden they are restricted to their homes, it’s highly stressful for them.
  • Since kids with special needs usually cannot express their feelings like other normal kids, it’s even more challenging as they can’t express how they are feeling and when it’s too overwhelming for them, they show all kinds of tantrums and other behaviour problems.
  • Since engagement in play activities is reduced, which is highly essential for development of all areas of a child, it leads to regression.
  • Staying at home means a lot more screen time rather than other normal days — leading to lack of attention, less intrest to communicate or socialize, less intrest in play activities.

The above points are not meant to panic anyone. It’s just to make the parents aware that kids also are going through a lot which, they may or may not be able to express and if we can reach out to them, support them, listen to them, then it will not just help us & our kids to deal with these hard times, but with proper attitude, we can turn these times into blessings for us & our kids as well help develop a very strong , beautiful parent-child relationship….

Is there any positive side of this situation ?

“Parents should know that kids have the ability to be incredibly resilient with the right support," said Parker Huston, PhD, clinical director of On Our Sleeves®, the movement to transform children’s mental health, and pediatric psychologist for Big Lots Behavioral Health Services at Nationwide Children’s. "

It means, with the right kind of guidance, these pandemic times can also be less stressful and be a blessing in many ways to the kids as well as their parents…

What can we do about this situation and how can we help our kids deal with it ?

  • Engage more in lots of different games (outdoor games whenever possible). Get creative !!

You can take the help of your child’s therapist, or teacher, other parents, social media, Pinterest, Facebook for getting more ideas regarding which games would be appropriate for your child’s age.

Play is the most important form of learning for children and is essential for development of all areas of your child !

So get actively engaged in creative & meaningful games with your child.

It will definitely boost your child’s confidence, releases stress, keeps you and your child healthy and active.

  • Develop new hobbies
    Lockdown is a great chance to practice your hobbies or learn new ones !

Help your child in developing new hobbies based on their interest.

Hobbies can be baking, painting, making crafts, dancing, playing a musical instrument, etc..

Participate with your child in those fun activities, appreciate their piece of work, & be innovative.

Ask your kids to lead you sometimes, let them decide what particular activity they want to do with you, make them feel important and appreciated.

Hobbies are a wonderful way to release your stress and build your child’s self esteem , imaginative & expressive skills..

  • Engage them in age appropriate Household chores
    Kids love to be of help !
    Engaging your kids in household chores everyday, helps build their confidence, self esteem, gives them a sense of worthiness & makes them more responsible, confident and independent adults !

Give your child 1 or 2 simple tasks every single day- that is age appropriate to him/her and they should complete the same task every day. Appreciate when they do well & when they complete the task on their own.

  • Meditation and yoga
    Practicing meditation and yoga every single day helps relax the mind and body
    Which is very important during these times…

When you are relaxed, then only you can handle any negative situations better, it helps both your body and mind to remain calm even in stressful situations.

It’s better if you can practice meditation and yoga early morning , when there’s no distractions.

Make it a habit to get up early and practice meditation every day. Involve your kids also to do so (if they are old enough). You will definitely notice your mind and body getting relaxed if you practice meditation everyday.

Try it !

kids always imitate their parents and so when they see you are meditating, they will be intrested to participate with you !

  • Appreciation goes a long way !

The person who feels good about himself/herself mostly is more immune to any negative situations or any sickness than people who feel bad about themselves, have a low self esteem, low confidence, and even a small negative situation can trigger panic reactions, anxiety, and depression in them !

So, During these hard times,

Let’s practice appreciation ! Kids go through a lot as mentioned above and most of all , they can’t express what they are going through well enough (especially kids with special needs) ; so, appreciating their little efforts with your chores or something they did on their own, their work, their small achievements, making them feel loved goes a long way to build their sense of worthiness and makes them feel important. It also helps to establish a wonderful bonding between parents and children.

  • Ask them about how they feel

Ask them “how are you feeling today?”

“What do you want to do with us today ?”

Asking your kids how are they feeling and listening to them carefully and calmly makes them feel heard, they feel loved and understand that you care about their feelings.

  • If your child is upset or feeling depressed, he might be disinterested to do some daily tasks like engaging in some activities or online sessions, or even not willing to take food. If your child is doing any of these, it’s time that instead of scolding him or forcing him to do the task, we should ask him how he is feeling ? Is he upset or feeling overwhelmed ?

Ask and listen to him.

When kids feel overwhelmed and stressed out or anxious, due to any reason, they might show some unusual tantrums, even self harming behaviours, or just crying for no reasons…. At these times it’s very important for us to keep our patience, understand that the Child is not being disrespectful, he is going through a lot of stress that he can’t handle…..

Giving a hug, a pat, telling them that it’s okay…. And you are there with them helps them to calm down slowly….

Using a emotions chart can be very beneficial to know about how they feel if they can’t verbalize their feelings with words….

When you ask them how they are feeling, they open up more to you whenever they feel any stress or anxiety. They can express themselves better if they know that their feelings matter and they will be heard !

If they tell you that they feel worried or anxious about anything, tell them it’s going to be okay!

That you love them and you are always there with them !

  • Self care

Its important to learn to take care of yourself 1st & meet your own emotional needs before you can meet the needs of your child !

Never ever ever underestimate your need to give yourself the time & space to take care of yourself.

Do anything that makes you feel better everyday first ! Make yourself a priority first !

Taking a walk, Listening to music, Talking to your loved ones, watching TV
Give yourself the time 1st! When you feel better then only you will be able to manage any frustrating situations way better !

  • Reduce exposure to news about the pandemic as much as possible
    Yes, watching too much news is creating a lot of unnecessary panic and anxiety among everyone !

Although it’s important to get updated regarding vaccination, other precautions and rules & regulations of lockdown, apart from that , watching news creates fear, stress and anxiety which not only harms our mental health but also we reflect that negativity into our kids stressing out them also.

  • Play group games in family
    Play group games with your family like ludo, carrom, card games, and other games appropriate for your child ! Watch movies together !

Playing group games helps kids to develop confidence, social skills, problem solving skills, communication skills & helps to develop good bonding between parents and children.

Positive aspects of lockdown

Are there any positive aspects of lockdown ?

Definitely yes !

  • Lockdown is a great time to improve bonding between parents and children.

Since I handle kids with special needs, personally parents have told me the last lockdown that they did so many activities together and since both parents were involved with the child, it helped to develop a healthy relationship between parents and children. They got to understand the needs of their children better and how to handle those needs much better than before !!

Both kids and parents get to know each other well.

  • Both parents and children get engaged in fun play activities which helps to release stress and enhance the creativity.
  • This is the time we are more aware of our health than ever before ! Parents as well as children focus more on healthy living by eating healthy and involving in physical activities regularly to improve their immunity as well.
  • Parents have more free time to do things they love to do, to pursue their hobbies when they are free from everyday stress of workload.

Lastly I would like to say that, although we all are facing some challenging times, if we focus on thé positive aspects that this period has given us, we can stay Happy and when our kids see us happy and positive, they will be happy as well ! They know how to be happy for no reason !!

Stay Healthy !

Stay Optimistic!

Stay Happy !

These times too shall pass….

My name is Abhipsa Parida.
I am an Occupational Therapist and I have been working with special kids since 5 years.

As part of my work, I handle kids of different age groups with varying needs and varying abilities to cope with stress. And, more often, these children experience a lot more stress than their normal peers due to various physiological and psychological reasons….

So, it’s highly essential for us to understand their needs so that we are able to help them out !

Happy parenting to all my readers !

Enjoy reading this article ! I am sure it will be useful to you !

My name is Abhipsa Parida. I am an occupational therapist and I have been handling kids with special needs since 5 years. I run my own clinic in Bhubaneswar