Bhubaneswar: The potential impact of lockdown on children’s mental health was highlighted as one of the biggest dangers during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. The prolonged isolation caused by lockdowns may continue to have increased long-term adverse consequences on children, suggest experts in Bhubaneswar.
Parents with children in the city live in constant fear of emotional outbursts from their children caused by lack of socialising and meeting friends.
Shibani Routray, a sociologist, feels her four-year-old daughter has become cranky over the last one year. With her husband working in the IT sector, they have shifted to Bhubaneswar to work from home.
“While we were at Hyderabad, she used to meet children of her age… she was so jovial and happy. Now, she gets irritated easily… there’s been a behavioural change in her. Her father and I have been trying to keep her busy and she also has her grandparents, but one cannot compensate the charm of mixing with peers,” says the worried mother.
Absence of a structured setting of the school for a long duration results in disruption in routine, boredom and lack of innovative ideas for engaging in academic and extracurricular activities.
The situation gets clumsier when the parents have to deal with children and COVID-19.
Mousumi Samal, a mother of a five-year-old son, recently recovered from the virus. Recalling her experience, she says: “I had to stay away from my son for around 20 days and it was a horrific experience for him. Being in the same house and not being able to come near each other is a situation no mother would ever want to experience.”
She admits that her son became independent, but the experience seems to have left a lasting impact on his mental health.
“He used to live with his father in a separate room but cried every night wanting to come near me. His father used to be busy with his office work and he was tremendously bored and annoyed living in the room all the time. After two weeks, he learnt to eat and wear clothes on his own but is disturbed by the fact that I might go away again. You cannot make children understand such situations and, most of the times, you don’t know how to deal with it either,” says Mousumi.
Another worrying factor is kids being exposed to phones and laptops. Doctors have advised parents to reduce their screen time to avoid situations like virtual autism.
Talking about her experience, Sanjana Mohapatra, a mother of two kids, says: “My kids were exposed to screen time of about 8 to10 hours. This led to anxiety, headache and loss of sleep. After the countrywide lockdown last year, we had to shift to our native village for two months so that they could have kids around them. But they were exposed and vulnerable to the virus there as people kept roaming freely, so we had to come back.”
There is a need to ameliorate children and adolescents’ access to mental health support services geared towards providing measures for developing healthy coping mechanisms during the current crisis.
Psychologists feel that it is very important for parents to maintain normalcy at home.
“Last time children were more resilient, but with the phase stretching too long, they are becoming fidgety. Parents have to make sure that there is a positive and active environment at homes. Even when they are working, they need to involve kids in various activities like music, craft, puzzles and even assign them assignments from school books,” says psychologist Isha Ipsita Satpathy.
Also important for parents is to engage in different activities with children at home during the weekends.
“They have to spend quality time of one hour every evening and give them assurance that things will get better with time… this, coming from parents, will help calm their minds,” she adds.