Minding young minds during the lockdown
Photo: Pixabay

Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death put spotlight on mental health once again. The actor, who died by suicide last month, was reportedly suffering from depression. Since then, several celebrities have been vocal about the need to speak about mental health — a subject which is spoken in hushed tones or brushed under the carpet in India.

Recently, while speaking about mental wellness, popular television actor Shivin Narang suggested that schools include a subject on mental health in their syllabus. He said children should be taught everything: From identifying symptoms to coping. The pandemic and the subsequent lockdown became an eye-opener of sorts for parents when their children started behaving differently. With schools shut and not being able to meet friends or play outdoors, many children started feeling anxious and stressed. And, Narang’s suggestion begins to make sense.

Behavioural changes

It is important to monitor your child’s behaviour. There are a lot of hints which parents miss out. Dr Sonal Anand, Psychiatrist Wockhardt Hospital, Mira Road, shares some behavioural changes that might alarm parents. She says, “In some children it might be difficult to pick up. Usually, in younger children, there are certain pin pointers which parents should look up for like a sudden change in appetite, irritability, mood swings, sleeplessness, sleepwalking, reduce concentration and crying.”

A nine-year old in Mumbai became cranky and lost her appetite during the lockdown. She is being treated by Dr Sonal Anand. Talking about her patient, Dr Sonal says, “The little girl is a single child and is an introvert. But in this lockdown, she has just gone into her shell more. In the last session we had, with a tiny tear in her eyes, she did speak that she misses her best friend in school a lot. She is sad because she is not able to meet her friend or talk to her much. What we don’t realise is that these younger kids do miss their friends and teachers. If both parents are working, children do depend on their teachers and friends for emotional support. So, we should think about their mindset also.”

Another case shared by Dr Sapna Bangar (Psychiatrist), Head: Mpower – The Centre, Mumbai, is about a 10-year-old who would refuse to sleep in his room during the lockdown and would scream and shout if parents tried to get him to sleep in his room. Dr Sapna says, “When we did the ABC (Antecedent-Behaviour and Consequence) analysis, it was evident that the child was worried due to all the discussions about deaths and hospitalisations due to COVID-19. He feared his parents would be separated from him. He did well with lot of reassurance and positive reinforcement and reducing his exposure to the negative news.”

The varied news reports about the pandemic have taken a toll on mental and physical health of not just adults, but children as well. “Children have, in my experience, shown a lot of resilience in dealing with the lockdown. They have taken it in their stride and been creative with their solutions. Those children with neuro-developmental disorders such as Autism and ADHD have struggled with the lack of structure and routine and have had meltdowns and behavioural problems that have been difficult to manage. On the other hand, those that have had emotional problems are doing relatively well with the easing of pressures such as exam stress, peer pressure, bullying and having more time with their parents at home,” says Dr Sapna Bangar while speaking about children’s physical and psycho-social well-being during the lockdown.

Role of schools

There are some schools who have come up with online counselling session that help children cope up with the stress. Radhika Sinha, Principal, Aditya Birla World Academy says, “What might have seemed like a fun holiday with a sense of freedom, to just be, do one’s own thing, as the time drew on, the uncertainty of it all began to dawn on everyone and seriousness in the attitude towards online learning became visible. Children love to talk, to share, they wish to be heard. To facilitate this, the counsellors at Aditya Birla World Academy (ABWA), have created a virtual space – to listen, care and share. We have class discussions on a variety of topics including personal anecdotes of how they are coping, their fears and apprehensions. We have conversations around resilience.”

Schools can participate in sensitising children about the current situation. “Schools and teachers play a vital role in this as currently, online schooling is the new way of schooling. Sharing accurate information and science-based facts about COVID-19 will help reduce the worries around it and support their ability to cope with any secondary impacts in their lives. All these topics can be discussed without it creating anxiety rather building a communication space,” suggests Jenisha Shah, Clinical Psychologist, Mpower – The Centre, Mumbai.

There’s something positive too...

According to a recent survey conducted by Child Rights and You (CRY), the lockdown period resulted in an increase in the bond between children and parents. This seems true when we talk to Shilpa Ranjane, mother of a nine-year-old, who feels her daughter is more than happy to have her working parents home all day. “When the Maharashtra government ordered all schools to shut, my daughter excitedly asked whether I will also be getting a holiday from the office. She spends most of her time indulging in drawing, painting and other activities and she makes us do the same too.”

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