Spotlight: Mind your children

Dr Massrat Shaikh

The ones who are most vulnerable to the impact of Covid-19 are undoubtedly the children who bear the trauma of a 360-degree change in life pattern throughout their lives, and given the seriousness of the situation, every adult needs to address this issue.
They thrive in an environment that is consistent and predictable. That predictability and consistency were disrupted by the pandemic, making children more vulnerable to feeling isolated, bored and anxious. The impact of Covid-19 on children of the MENA region, as Unicef studies show, has affected several dimensions of their development.
Unicef studies show that most parents reported a change in children’s emotions and behaviour during quarantine. The most frequently observed changes are difficulty concentrating, boredom, irritability, restlessness, nervousness, and loneliness.
Dr Massrat Shaikh, Educational Psychologist, Mindfulness Educator, says that inability of children to play outdoors and socialise did harm their well-being.
“An increase in tensions within the households and parents’ angst also affected children’s mental health. Several recent research surveys across the world show an increase in children’s anxiety and depression since the beginning of the pandemic,” she said.
These research studies suggest that loneliness during the containment measures for Covid-19 has affected the children’s mental health.
She said these studies also show that most parents reported feeling stressed about quarantine, which was associated with increased reports of behavioural and emotional symptoms in children.

During these stressful times, children are craving more attention to their emotional health. Stress makes it hard for children to learn and concentrate on academics but acquiring skills to manage stress can help them. Although most schools are adopting feelings-based lessons called SEL — or Social-Emotional Learning to help students cope with the current challenges, they could always benefit from extra support in these stressful times.
Under these circumstances, parents and teachers need to apply some strategies that help the children manage stress and have better behaviour. They need to be taught self-regulation and self-awareness. They should recognise their thoughts, emotions, actions and react to them in positive ways as talking about emotions is crucial in assimilating them with reality.
“Children usually find it hard to express themselves in words. Hence teaching them to notice how they are feeling helps them regulate their emotions. Sitting down with children and having everyone come up with four or five words describing how they want to feel, and then four to five activities that they all agree to do to help them get there can be a useful activity.”
Considerable attention should be paid to positive experiences which can lower their stress levels. Asking children questions at dinner like, ‘what was something positive that happened today’? This kind of questions draw their attention to positive experiences and teach children gratitude.
Reading aloud storybooks and discussing the emotions of the characters can help children build their vocabulary to express their feelings. Teaching children to verbalise feelings using a Mood Meter is also helpful.
Child psychologists suggest that when parents share their emotions, it helps children understand that those feelings are normal, and they start feeling more comfortable speaking about them. When children cannot recognise emotions and regulate them, it will undercut their ability to engage in learning.
Additionally, parents should deliberately make an attempt to watch funny programmes, or read jokes and laugh with children as they serve as an invaluable coping response to stress.