Along with the medical and economic impacts of COVID-19, there is also a psychological aspect that is being felt by all. But, it is the youngest among us who may need extra attention in dealing with these scary and/or stressful feelings.
At Miracle Foundation, we have always ensured that the mental well being of the children we support is emphasized as much as their nutritional and physical health. With technology and an agile and dedicated team we have been able to maintain this attention to mental health during quarantine. We are counseling orphanages and families on the best way to address the emotions that are bound to come up during this uncertain time.
Recently, we spoke with Miracle Foundation India’s Coordinator on Mental Health Initiatives – Deepika Gandhi – about how to approach support for children at this time.
Deepika emphasised that-
“It is natural for the children to feel stress, anxiety, grief, and worry during an ongoing pandemic like COVID-19. Fear and anxiety about their own health and the health of loved ones can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions. In today’s digital world, children also access different kinds of information and news through social media and digital platforms, some of them may not be factually true, causing further stress and anxiety. It is enhanced when children are not able to go out, play, attend school or interact freely.”
Deepika also shared these 6 tips with us for how to care for children mentally and emotionally during COVID-19. These tips are valuable for anyone who is a parent or caregiver to children right now.
- Understand that reactions to the pandemic may vary– Children’s responses to stressful events are unique and varied. Some children may be irritable or clingy, and some may regress, demand extra attention, or have difficulty with self-care, sleeping, and eating. New and challenging behaviors are natural responses, and adults can help by showing empathy and patience and by calmly setting limits when needed.
- Ensure the presence of a responsive and sensitive caregiver– The primary factor in recovery from a traumatic event is the presence of a supportive, caring adult in a child’s life. Even when a parent is not available, children canbenefit greatly from care provided by other adults (e.g., caretaker, relatives, friends) who can offer them consistent, sensitive care that helps protect them from a pandemic’s harmful effects.
- Social distancing should not mean social isolation– Children, especially young children—need quality time with their caregivers and other important people in their lives. Social connectedness improves children’s chances of showing resilience to adversity. Creative approaches to staying connected are important (e.g., writing letters, online video chats).
- Provide age-appropriate information– Children tend to rely on their imaginations when they lack adequate information.. Adults’ decisions to withhold information are usually more stressful for children than telling the truth in age-appropriate ways. Adults should instead make themselves available for children to ask questions and talk about their concerns. In addition, adults’ should limit children’s exposure to media coverage, social media and adult conversations about the pandemic, as these channels may be less age-appropriate.
- Create a safe physical and emotional environment by practicing- reassurance, routines and regulation– – First, adults should reassure children about their safety and the safety of loved ones, and tell them that it is adults’ job to ensure their safety. Second, adults should maintain routines to provide children with a sense of safety and predictability (e.g., regular bedtimes and meals, daily schedules for learning and play). And third, adults should support children’s development of regulation. To help them manage these reactions, it is important to both validate their feelings (e.g., “I know that this might feel scary or overwhelming”) and encourage them to engage in activities that help them self-regulate (e.g., exercise, deep breathing, mindfulness or meditation activities, regular routines for sleeping and eating).
- Emphasize strengths, hope and positivity– Children need to feel safe, secure, and positive about their present and future. Adults can help by focusing children’s attention on stories about how people come together, find creative solutions to difficult problems, and overcome adversity during the epidemic. Talking about these stories can be healing and reassuring to children and adults alike.