As the second wave rages on across the country, the pandemic has forced most of us into another long lockdown, with restrictions on movement and strict curfews. The lockdown, a tool used to curb the spread of the coronavirus, has become a necessity to save lives. While there is no questioning the need for this measure, it comes with its downsides. The economic and social ramifications have already proven to be devastating for many, with no clear end in sight.
The isolation of the lockdown has been particularly harsh on children, who have been away from school for over a year. Online classes have become the norm, with social interaction being limited to immediate family. The lockdown has taken a toll on the mental and physical health of children, impacted their learning ability and social skills and has caused a huge amount of stress for parents looking to get through this tough time.
Citizen Matters brought together an expert panel comprising doctors, educators and parents to discuss the impact of the lockdown on children and how parents can devise strategies to cope with it. Some key points from the discussion are outlined below.
The lockdown has added an enormous amount of stress for children and parents alike.
The burdens of this have been felt by those belonging to the low income groups more than any. Kavitha S, who splits her time between tailoring and domestic work, is mother to a 16-year old. She related the struggles faced by her son since the pandemic began, “My son was a good student until the lockdown. He has since found it hard to focus on his classes. He did not get enough marks in Class X exams last year held during the lockdown. Therefore, he is studying in a group that was not his first choice in Class XI”.
Anxiety about making ends meet has also affected the young lad. Kavitha says that her son has been worried about how the family can sustain itself given the loss of income that his parent has seen. He even volunteered to pitch in by doing odd jobs, which distracted him from studies and school.
Andrew Sesuraj, a professor of social work in Loyola College, pointed out that children from the lower economic strata also face isolation, even during virtual schooling. Classes for government schools are often held as TV sessions, so that there is no two-way communication between the teacher and students or interaction with their peers. This has resulted in many being cut off from their friends and social network at schools for over a year.
The absence of midday meals led to a struggle for basic needs among many, until the government’s intervention. Children have also been witnessing a rising amount of strife and discord in their families during the lockdown. Child labour has been on the rise, as families struggle to make ends meet.
The struggle for children and parents from families who are financially stable are different, but difficult nevertheless. Jayathi Jayaraman, a parent of two children aged 11 and 14, speaks of how the lockdown resulted in skyrocketing screen time. “While initially my children were glad to get some time off school, as everything moved online there has been a rise in their screen time. With school, hobby classes and entertainment all resulting in more screen time, this has affected their eyesight, caused issues with posture and weight gain and children becoming less social.” Jayanthi points out that the onus has now shifted to the parents to keep the children occupied and engaged meaningfully through the day.
The challenges before children with special needs and those on the autism spectrum have increased dramatically during the lockdown. Devi Mani, a health tech entrepreneur and founder of SKOOC, a health and well-being startup, siad that there were increasing instances of medical and learning needs of children remaining unaddressed. Children who need therapy and counselling have struggled to access them during the pandemic and lockdown, leading to various disruptions in their day to day life. For some children, behavioural issues exacerbated by the lockdown have progressed to medical issues, raising serious concerns around their long term health.
What to watch out for
The emotional impact faced by children might manifest itself in many ways and be caused by various habits that have become the norm during lockdown. Aarti Rajaratnam, a psychologist, says , “Before we start looking at children,we should consider the environment that has been created for them at home. A sudden change in sleep patterns, eating habits, toilet habits, children acting out and any changes in their relationship with adults might indicate underlying issues caused by the lockdown.”
Dr Ravikumar, a pediatrician, says “A sign of impact such as that of increased screen time might come across through issues with eyesight such as myopia. Other behaviours such as mood swings, temper issues, loss of attention span and binge eating have also been found in children struggling during the lockdown.”
Under these difficult circumstances, the onus falls on parents to create an environment that mitigates its impact. Aarti says, “There is nothing normal about a pandemic. These are uncertain times for all. A few steps that can be taken to minimise the negative impact would entail regularising a sleep schedule for the children, teaching children to regulate their emotions and the impact of reflection, and nurturing connection, communication and conflict resolution.”
From her experiences during the lockdown, Jayanthi reflects that there is no magic wand to wish away the impact of the pandemic and lockdown. “A few things that have worked in my home are maintaining a regular sleep cycle, looking for things to do within the house to combat boredom, setting a time limit on the use of phone and internet and finding ways for children to be involved in household chores.” Jayanthi also stresses on the impact of bonding within the family and scheduling Zoom calls with extended family and friends to help children retain a sense of connectedness with those they hold dear.
Devi speaks of the need for parents to lead by example. “If you want children to follow a routine, as parents, you must also follow a routine. It is important to reset expectations of children during this time. Resetting does not mean lowering expectations, but tweaking them. There is a lot of pressure on the children as it is, so parents must cut them some slack. Parents must focus on helping children find ways to interact with their friends safely and also their physical fitness.
Dr Ravikamar says, “Sound sleep, good physical activity, good eating habits and trying to minimize screen time wherever possible is vital for the wellbeing of children. There can be activities done in the open, in well-ventilated spaces away from people, such as walking, cycling or badminton. Being in natural light is also important at this time.”
Andrew feels that the role of communities in looking out for children is even more crucial now than before, especially for those from the lower economic spectrum. “The community can come together to help children by having them learn together under safe conditions. Others can help those in the lower economic strata by paying them promptly if you use their services and by helping children connect with each other online whenever possible.”
On helping children deal with grief during the pandemic, Aarti says, “ Compassionate empathy is the need of the hour, sitting together and working with them is the solution. Getting children to connect with memories and experiences, and talking about grief is important. Grief will be processed through life, it is not something that can be switched off. Children must not be rushed through grief. Adults must make space for them to experience and work through grief, instead of giving them toxic positivity.”
Watch the full discussion here: