Advice Column, Health, Parenting

Covid-19 is hurting children’s mental health – here’s how to help

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  • Category Advice Column, Health, Parenting

If you’re worried about how your children will weather the Covid-19 storm, you’re not alone! e The pandemic and lockdown have changed children’s lives in many ways. Especially now with schools closing again – disrupted routines, uncertainty, and parental anxiety scan have an impact on children’s mental health. We spoke to counselling psychologist Reabetsoe Buys about the mental health effects she is seeing in kids, and tips for how you can protect their mental health now and in the future. 

The effects of Covid-19 and subsequent lockdown on children 

Children may not be able to  handle, or be interested in too much detail. They may n develop a sense of fear around the virus –  fear of getting sick, and in particular worry about how it might affect their parents and grandparents.

The lockdown had left children  more socially isolated and spending much more time at home with the family. Almost overnight children had to stop going to school and visiting friends and relatives over the weekends. Not only is this very confusing for them, but it has given rise to feelings of uncertainty and vulnerability,” says Reabetsoe. 

These fears and uncertainties can affect children in different ways. Reabetsoe says you may have noticed:

  • Increased anxiety, clinginess, and fear
  • Emotional outbursts, anger, and irritability
  • Changes in sleeping and eating habits
  • Bodily complaints like stomach aches or headaches which seem to have no medical basis
  • Regression, such as being afraid to be sleep in their own room
  • Feelings of sadness and loneliness, as they miss school and friends

Helping your kids cope

“Fortunately, children are much more resilient than we think, so as a parent/guardian try not to panic when your child shows any changes in how they function during this time,” says Reabetsoe. 

Here are ways you can help your child cope:

COVID-19 concerns and worry 

  • Find out what they already know. Then you’ll be able to fill in the gaps. But if they don’t seem interested or their questions are few, that’s also OK.
  • Talk about COVID-19 openly and truthfully – make sure you provide factual information in a calm manner. 
  • Provide context. Inform them that children don’t get as sick as adults, who get symptoms similar to those of a cold or  flu. Also explain that most people who get the virus do recover and do this reassuringly.
  • Focus on the positives. Talk about the measures being taken to keep people safe and healthy, and that by washing their hands often, wearing masks, taking their vitamins, and getting enough sleep, they’ll stay healthy and strong – be a good role model and let them see you doing these protective activities often

 Regarding the lockdown

  • Give them space to share their fears: allow your child to tell you what they’re thinking and feeling. Check in with them regularly and let them know they can always come to you for answers or talk about what scares them. 
  • Empathise and normalise their feelings.
  • Reassure them that they are safe and taken care of – extra hugs and love can go a long way!
  • Share age-appropriate information with them so that they understand the limitations (e.g. we cannot go out because we need to make sure we keep safe in our home).
  • Routine, structure, and consistency create a sense of stability and security.
  • Give them specific things to do to feel in control – get them involved in planning fun activities which the family can do together.
  • Make time for fresh air and exercise.
  • Do not stress over schoolwork if it becomes unmanageable at the moment, especially when children are young – it is already a stressful time!
  • Set up video playdates so your child can be in touch with friends, cousins and other family members.

Selfcare is of the essence 

Parents are experiencing their own stresses around health, safety, finances, family and the uncertain future. Children are sensitive to their parents’ feelings of stress and anxiety. Try to take care of yourself and manage your own stress and anxiety as best you can. Make time to connect with other adults and nurture those relationships and get help when you need it.

Ask for a helping hand for your kids 

While we are still trying to navigate these trying times, it is just as important to keep an eye on changes which might indicate a significant impact on mental health and well-being. If symptoms persist or worsen, reach out for assistance or support. Many therapists are conducting virtual sessions for adults and children.

Help is always near 

  • South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), (011) 234 4837
  • Lifeline SA: 086 132 2322. 

Anton Keet, Head of Risk Services at 1Life

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