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With the rapidly evolving COVID-19 situation, many of us find ourselves feeling a heightened sense of fear and anxiety. Amidst the rapidly changing situations and restrictions across the globe, this has impacted children and youths of differently. (Singh et. al., 2020).

In the past, children received support from their teachers and peers while they were able to attend school physically. The children were able to learn from one another in social settings within the school compound. However, this is slowly changing as home-based learning (HBL) and social distancing becomes a norm in the society. More children are reported to the depressed because we are no longer able to be with their peer groups and are struggling with the online learning (Yeo, 2020). In the past month, an additional 200 children have approached Tinkle Friend, a helpline for students in primary schools, suggesting that the children could be facing significant challenges now.

Some parents mentioned that due to the closure of schools had impacts on their children’s social and emotional well-being, resulting in anxiety, clinginess, tantrums, boredom and lack of stimulation (Egan, 2021). On the other hand, some parents reported positive impacts including have more play time among siblings and a pause from usually routines (Egan, 2021).

 

How has COVID-19 impacted children emotionally?

 

There are emotional impacts on children due to COVID-19, although they may manifest through behavioural means. According to an article on Straits Times about how childhood has changed during COVID-19, there has been an increase in anxiety and depression after circuit breaker in Singapore last year in children (Yeo, 2020). This could be due to the fewer outlets for physical activity, which aids in stress management (Yeo, 2020). Due to lack of physical social interactions, this has led to isolation and loneliness, which are associated with poorer mental health and decreased well-being.

The impact of the pandemic and lockdown has had a greater impact on children compared to the adults. Irritability, inattention and clinging behaviour have been found to have increased in children irrespective of their age groups (Viner et al., 2020).

Additionally, loneliness is associated with higher likelihood of self-harm, eating disorder risk behaviour and suicidal ideation (Yeo, 2020). It was also found that prolonged stress and anxiety can lead to clinical depression (Yeo, 2020).

Children have emotional development milestones which they would usually meet as they grow up. Unfortunately, as a result of various mandatory restrictions in efforts to keep nations safe, these reaching such milestones may be hindered.

 

Impacts on toddlers and pre-schoolers

Findings has revealed that children felt isolated, uncertain, and fearful during the current times. Children also experienced disrupted rest, nightmares, agitation, separation anxiety and a loss of appetite (Jiao et al., 2020). The social system which the child was so used to, which includes their teachers, extended family members, and childcare staff has suddenly changed so dramatically for them (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2020).

 

Impacts on primary school students

For primary school students, it can be a difficult experience for them to be physically away from their loved ones like their grandparents, friends or family members who are ill (CDC, 2020). Uncertainty and anxiety are found to be associated with confinement of children in their homes, as their avenues for socialisation is disrupted (Jiao et al., 2020). The lack of structured settings led to disruptions in their routines, boredom, and lack of creativity in engaging various educational and co-curricular activities. Some of them have expressed lower moods as they are unable to go outside, meet friends and engage in school activities physically (Lee, 2020; Liu et al., 2020; Zhai and Du, 2020). They have become more attached to their parents and attention seeking due to these shifts in routines (Singh et al., 2020).

 

Impact on children whose parents are away

For some children, quarantine and separation from parents has become a reality and they may develop feelings of sadness, anxiety, fear of death, fear of parents’ death and fear of being isolated in the hospital which may have a very detrimental effect on their psychological development (APA, 2020; CDC, 2019; Dalton et al., 2020).  Children have emotionally pent-up feelings of distress which may turn inwards into emotional fear or outwards towards acting out behaviour (Liu et al., 2020). They might feel separated or alone as they have limited knowledge and level of maturity to understand the implications of the current pandemic situation in their limited world.

 

How is my child affected socially?

Social developments

While some of us may think that social developments come naturally, but the reality is that your child’s environment and the people whom he or she interacts with is important in his or her development.

 

Toddlers and Pre-schoolers

The socialisation that your child experiences in school and with friends outside of school is crucial in terms of his or her development. The daily schedules and connections with your child’s peers, family and teachers helps to form their personality, build social skills and a firm foundation to develop their sense of self (Providence, 2020). Social skills are the skills needed to interact and communicate with others. Examples of social skills include cooperation, sharing, listening, making eye contact, following instructions, respecting personal space and using manners (Very Well Family, 2021). Although the pandemic has prevented your child from being able to interact with others, you and your family can play an integral role in guiding your child to pick up social skills by being a role model.

 

Primary School Students

At this stage in life, peer acceptance becomes increasingly important as your child learns to navigate through friendships, school, co-curricular activities, and their person interests (Providence, 2020). All of these involves social interaction. It is especially difficult for primary school students as many activities in primary school are hands-on and based off social interactions (Sparks, 2020). With the current restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19, students are no longer able to carry out group activities which spurs social skill development.

 

Recommendations

While this pandemic has posed numerous emotional and social challenges for the children, there are ways to support and guide them through this difficult time. Parents play an important role in ensuring the children’s wellbeing in this period.

 

Acknowledge and talk about the stress, fear and behavioural changes

Having such drastic changes can lead to excessive worries or sadness. You can talk to your child about how he or she is feeling and listen actively to them. Rather than focus on punishing them for misbehaving, they can engage them on what they are feeling (Goh, 2020). Encourage your child to share his or her challenges and struggles and provide a safe space for him or her to do so (Yeo, 2020). Parents with young children can talk about their children’s emotions through story books with related themes or use drawings to express themselves and discuss about their feelings (Goh, 2020)

 

 

Teach them ways to stay healthy physically and emotionally

Be a good role model to your child. Practice good personal hygiene, by washing your hands often, staying one metre apart from others and wearing your mask in public to protect yourself and others. Your child will likely learn from you and do the same (CDC, 2020).

Children tend to model the behaviour of their caregivers. Should you be anxious, the children would also feel anxious (Goh, 2020). Stay composed and reassure your child about their safety and well-being.

Let your child learn about possible ways to seek support, for instance through speaking to you directly, or through dialling the Tinkle Friend hotline.

To guide your child, you can:

  1. Start by being aware that everyone needs help and support at times, including you!
  2. Reframe asking for help as something that is courageous and a strength instead of weakness.
  3. Give your child full attention when he or she asks for your help and respond in a positive manner.
  4. Show that you care about them and try not to minimise their feelings and thoughts.
  5. Encourage your child to seek professional help when needed (Kids Helpline, 2018).

 

 

Maintain a normal routine

Make sure your child maintains his or her usual routines and activities as much as possible, together with regular sleep, good eating habits and exercise (Yeo, 2020).

 

Optimal usage of mobile devices

It is important for a “judicious use” of gadgets and social media for teens as youths need peer connections as well as healthy adult connections to stay mentally healthy (Yeo, 2020). Help to limit your child’s device usage by setting certain time periods to engage with their devices. You can also guide your child to use the mobile devise  to connect with friends, compensating for the lack of face-to-face interactions (Francisco et. al., 2020).

This pandemic has majorly impacted your child’s usual schedule, environment, and other areas of your child’s life, which affects him or her emotionally and socially. However, take heart, you can still play an active role in his or her life by helping your child learn and develop important emotional management skills and build social skills to navigate through life through the tips that we have shared with you!

Camellia Wong, MA., Tan Khai Teng

 

 

References

APA. (2020). Managing COVID-19 concerns for people with OCD. https://www.apa.org/topics/covid-19/managing-ocd.

Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117(3), 497–529. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.117.3.497

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, June 15). Data and statistics on children’s mental health.https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/data.html

Dalton, L., Rapa, E., & Stein, A. (2020). Protecting the psychological health of children through effective communication about COVID-19. The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health4(5), 346–347. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2352-4642(20)30097-3

Goh, Y. H. (2020, May 9). Anxiety may cause kids to “misbehave”. The Straits Times. https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/health/anxiety-may-cause-kids-to-misbehave

Hawkley, L. C., & Cacioppo, J. T. (2010). Loneliness matters: A theoretical and empirical review of consequences and mechanisms. Annals of Behavioral Medicine40(2), 218–227. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12160-010-9210-8

Jiao, W. Y., Wang, L. N., Liu, J., Fang, S. F., Jiao, F. Y., Pettoello-Mantovani, M., & Somekh, E. (2020). Behavioral and emotional disorders in children during the covid-19 epidemic. The Journal of Pediatrics, 221, 264-266.e1. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpeds.2020.03.013

Kids Helpline (2018, April 24). Empowering young people to ask for help.https://kidshelpline.com.au/parents/issues/empowering-young-people-ask-help

Lee, J. (2020). Mental health effects of school closures during COVID-19. The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health4(6), 421. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2352-4642(20)30109-7

Liu, J. J., Bao, Y., Huang, X., Shi, J., & Lu, L. (2020). Mental health considerations for children quarantined because of COVID-19. The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health4(5), 347–349. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2352-4642(20)30096-1

Providence (2020, May 24). Missing social and educational milestones. https://www.providence.org/news/uf/614770827

Sparks, S. D. (2020). Teaching the ‘New’ COVID-19 Social-Emotional Skills. Student Well-being. https://www.edweek.org/leadership/teaching-the-new-covid-19-social-emotional-skills/2020/09

Teng, A. (2021, March 8). Covid-19 childhood: How has the pandemic affected the little ones?. The Straits Times. https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/parenting-education/covid-19-childhood-how-has-the-pandemic-affected-the-little-ones

Viner, R. M., Russell, S. J., Croker, H., Packer, J., Ward, J., Stansfield, C., Mytton, O., Bonell, C., & Booy, R. (2020). School closure and management practices during coronavirus outbreaks including COVID-19: A rapid systematic review. The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health4(5), 397–404. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2352-4642(20)30095-X

Viner, R. M., Russell, S. J., Croker, H., Packer, J., Ward, J., Stansfield, C., Mytton, O., Bonell, C., & Booy, R. (2020). School Closure and Management Practices during Coronavirus Outbreaks including COVID-19: A Rapid Systematic Review. The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health4(5), 397–404. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2352-4642(20)30095-X

Yeo, S. (2020, October 3). A lost or more resilient generation? 6 ways Covid-19 changed childhood in Singapore. The Straits Times. https://www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle/6-ways-covid-19-changed-childhood-in-singapore-a-lost-or-more-resilient-generation

Zhai, Y., & Du, X. (2020). Mental Health Care for International Chinese students affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The Lancet Psychiatry7(4), e22. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2215-0366(20)30089-4

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