Schools, parents role to ensure kids’ mental health during COVID-19: Experts

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Schools and parents have bigger roles to play with kids being home-bound due to the COVID-19 pandemic so that the mental health issues arising due to outdoor activities being restricted can be addressed, according to experts.

Samir Parikh, director, Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, Fortis Hospital, has pointed out that the prevailing uncertainty surrounding the ongoing pandemic can give rise to feelings of stress and anxiety in adults and children alike.

“The lack of outdoor physical activity may lead children to feel more restless. The inability to meet and interact with peers may also create feelings of loneliness and isolation. In these times, it is important to allow children the space to express their thoughts and feelings and for adults to talk to children about the situation, but in a manner that is age-appropriate,” he said.

“It is recommended for parents to help provide a sense of normalcy in a child’s life by incorporating a structure and routine. Alongside, efforts should be made to encourage a sense of positivity. Help children see this as an opportunity to pick up a new skill or engage in a new hobby. Spend quality time as a family – have conversations over meals, play board games, revisit old photo albums, or watch television together. Setting up interactions with friends through video-conference should also be encouraged,” Parikh added.

Universities and schools across the country have been closed since March 16, when the Centre announced a nationwide classroom shutdown as part of a slew of measures to contain the COVID-19 outbreak.

A 21-day nationwide lockdown was announced on March 24, which came into effect the next day. While the government has announced easing of certain restrictions, the schools and colleges continue to remain closed.

“It is important for schools to hold both structured and unstructured conversations around the pandemic and lockdown to allow the students the opportunity to express their concerns and use this time as a learning opportunity. Ensuring regular interactions with peers and teachers plays a significant role in helping children adjust with the transition as is being expected at these unprecedented times,” Parikh said.

According to Sushant Kalra, founder, Parvarish, an institute of parenting, children who are very high on physical, mental and emotional energy are not getting any outlet to express.

“Being confined to their homes without connecting with their peers, not being able to play, study, enjoy, eat, meet, celebrate, have bottled them up. The charged vibes from the adults in the family is adding to the unhealthy environment.

“A critical aspect of supporting children is to up the level of focus on the mental and emotional health of children and parents. Mental and emotional health has always taken a back seat when it comes to acquiring the necessary skills and even to acknowledge the need for the same. Also, the focus on nurturing life skills and competencies of children needs to be built into the curriculum,” he added.

The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) has started a mental health helpline for students and live fitness sessions for children to keep them active during the pandemic.

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