Prolonged lockdown can have a lasting impact on children’s mental wellbeing, psychologists sayExperts advise parents to engage their wards in indoor activities, talk to them and make them comfortable while looking after their own mental health.
Last week, a nine-year-old boy from Bishalnagar, Kathmandu rushed to the restroom as soon as his online class started. He locked himself in the restroom until the class was over. A day before, the fourth-grader had torn his homework notebook up.
“His mother complained that her son was not able to concentrate on his studies, hence he was avoiding the online class,” Dr Ganga Pathak, a child psychologist, told the Post. “According to his mother, he would scream whenever asked to do school assignments and preferred to be alone.”
When he locked himself in the restroom, the family was scared, said Pathak.
As the lockdown to contain the spread of Covid-19 continues, schools have started online classes. Psychologists say the lockdown, which entered its 49th day on Monday, has had a profound impact on children.
“It must have been a lockdown effect that the fourth-grader was avoiding online classes,” said Pathak.
Doctors say continuous confinement for about two months with almost nil physical activity has made life stressful for everyone and children have been hit the hardest. There could be a lasting impact on children’s physical as well as mental wellbeing, doctors warn.
Eleven-year-old Sarmila of Maitidevi recently told her mother that life had become so boring that she did not want to live anymore. Her mother immediately sought a psychologist's help.
“She was terrified over the changed behaviour of her daughter," said Pathak. "I counselled the mother over the phone and asked her to be close with her daughter and engage her as much as possible until she can bring her to me once the lockdown is lifted.
Both the children from Bishalngar and Maitidevi, according to Pathak, were displaying anxiety disorder.
Pathak, who teaches psychology at Tri-Chandra College and runs a counselling and therapeutic clinic in New Baneshwor, said she has been receiving dozens of calls of late from distressed parents to inquire about their children’s unusual behaviours.
Children could display different behaviours due to mental stress and in some cases they might need immediate attention, according to doctors.
The government has not said when it plans to lift the lockdown. Even if the lockdown is lifted, chances of schools reopening, however, are slim, which could mean some more weeks of home confinement for children.
Children who are already at risk–like those living in challenging home environments or those lacking social support or whose families are facing poverty–are more vulnerable in such situations.
According to doctors, remaining out of schools for a long time means prolonged stress and boredom among children. Schools are a great platform for children to socialise and play outdoors, and a lack of such activities can lead to mental health conditions in children, such as anxiety and depression, they say.
“Children want to play, jump around and socialise. They want to be with their peers and they want to talk,” said Dr Ananta Prasad Adhikari, a consultant psychiatrist at Nepal Mental Hospital. “But the continued lockdown has robbed children of all they want.”
Since the pandemic is taking a toll on people of all age groups, in many households, children might fail to get the required attention from their stressed parents as well, according to Adhikari.
“Or some parents may not have been able to pay continuous attention to their children due to their work,” Adhikari told the Post. “This could further make the situation worse.”
The United Nations Children’s Fund warned last month that children and young people are among the most severely impacted victims of the Covid-19 pandemic.
"Not only are children and young people contracting Covid-19, they are also among its most severely impacted victims," said the UN agency. “Unless we act now to address the pandemic’s impacts on children, the echoes of Covid-19 will permanently damage our shared future.”
Experts say parents need to pay more attention to their children in times of the pandemic that has forced everyone home. Keeping children close, talking to them, engaging them in indoor activities in the kitchen and garden and ensuring that they get good sleep can be of great help, they say.
"Children should be given an environment where they feel comfortable rather than constricted," Dr Arun Raj Kunwar, a child psychiatrist serving at Kanti Children’s Hospital, told the Post. “Children often react quickly and may show aggressive behaviour. Adults must find ways to keep them calm.”
According to Kunwar, parents should also try to encourage children to engage in creative works as much as possible so that they don’t get bored or stressed.
“The prolonged lockdown has made everyone’s life difficult but children cannot cope with the difficulties compared to their parents,” said Kunwar. “Since parents' role is very important to protect their children from psychological distress, they should also look after their own mental health.”
For psychosocial counselling
Dr Arun Raj Kunwar, Kanti Children’s Hospital: 9851102378