by Priyanka Raha
Most U.S. schools have canceled in-person classes. Based on Dr. Fauci’s senate testimony where he warned against children being immune to coronavirus, citing new cases where children have developed a mysterious inflammatory syndrome that could be linked to the virus, there is a looming uncertainty about daycares and summer camps being open over summer. As of now, we are not even certain of exactly how and when schools will reopen.
Long story short, kids are going to stay home for longer than we had anticipated.
As we struggle with the economic downturns and plan to reopen the economy in phases, what no one is talking about is with schools and daycares closed, parents will continue to manage work from home while taking care of children full-time. The daily coronavirus task force barely touches the subject of availability of childcare. We haven’t yet fully deconstructed what months of staying at home without socializing with friends will do to the mental health of children.
According to a report by UNESCO, nationwide closures are affecting 70% of the world’s student population. With all the school districts being unable to adapt to distance learning, owing to digital inequity, children are losing a mean of 1 to 3 months in varying subjects. Some even estimate that there will be a 9-month to 12-month loss when children return to school in the fall.
As children are socially isolated they do not have access to school counselors or lack interaction with friends and teachers, there is a greater risk of child abuse at home as a lot of these will go unreported. As children are home all the time there is an increased exposure of them to parents or caregivers. There is a loss of access to mental health resources not just for the children but for the caregivers and parents as well.
Dr. Dimitri Christakis, one of the nation’s most prominent pediatricians and the director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children’s Hospital, talks about the unknown implications of school closures in his latest article published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. “The outcomes of pandemics are best understood in retrospect. While in the thick of it, decisions must be made without the benefits that hindsight will provide, and those decisions can have considerable and lasting implications.” He also mentions how certain vulnerable sub-populations are making far greater sacrifices.
Kids are constantly looking to parents for answers. Children’s mental health is suffering. Parenting communities across social media are talking about an increase in tantrums, nightmares, and violent outbursts. All of the above has a compounding effect on families.
The World Health Organization has some tips on looking after your mental health while we collectively struggle with unemployment, continuous work-from-home and lack of physical contact with friends and families.
Will these measures be enough?
As Christakis rightly points out, “Years from now, historians, epidemiologists, psychologists and economists will provide extensive explanations of the damage done, mistakes made, and lessons learned.”
I, on the other hand, would like to offer a semblance of hope in staying positive and taking it one day at a time. While we all literally need to put the face mask on while venturing out, our mental health needs to be masked from the known and unknown dangers. Here are a few things you can do.
- Engage with friends and family over phone or video or social media.
- Maintain a routine of work, meals, rest, exercise and lots of water.
- Know what bothers you or acts as a trigger and keep it to a minimum – that could be social media, the news etc.
- Find if your therapist will do a phone session, and make use of it if you need it.
- Ask for help from a trusted friend or family.
- For people who don’t have the luxury, call the National Parent Helpline at 1-855-427-2736 or the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD.
Avoid discriminating, this is happening to us by a virus and NOT by someone or by a country. If we do this together we will be able to fight it.