I don’t have a child, yet. I don’t plan on having one anytime soon. Yet, I’m surrounded by friends, associates, and family members who are going through the turmoil of raising their children amidst the pandemic.
“As if having a child isn’t challenging enough, now this pandemic isn’t fading away anytime soon, I notice my son being more overwhelmed than usual,” a friend once poured her heart to me about her 10-year-old bundle of joy. Nothing I could say would help her struggles, nor anyone’s.
It makes me wonder, though, what solutions can help ease this overwhelming sensation parents and children are both facing nowadays?
Meet Dr Anggia Hapsari, SpKJ, SubSp.AR (K), a Psychiatrist Specialist and Consultant for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Pondok Indah Hospital, Bintaro Jaya. Having 17 years of experience in child and adolescent psychiatry and consultancy in hospitals and institutions across Jakarta, as well as being a lecturer at a couple of Indonesia’s top universities, Dr Hapsari shared her insights on how parents can help their overwhelmed children in this period.
Get to know your child’s mental condition
“Paying attention to the mental condition of children is as important as paying attention to their physical condition. Conditions like stress, depression, and hopelessness are prone to be experienced by children. Although the symptoms are different for each age, parents need to know them to prevent the condition from getting worse,” she expressed.
The pandemic has undoubtedly impacted adults, yet children are also vulnerable to the pandemic’s effects. Dr Hapsari stated that one of them is stress because the changes make children experience fear, worry, and experience anxiety disorders.
Symptoms of an overwhelmed child are:
- Difficulty sleeping and eating
- Having nightmares
- Being withdrawn or aggressive
- Experiencing physical complaints without a clear cause
- Fearing being left alone
- Always wanting to be near parents or becoming very dependent
- Having a new fear, for example, a new fear of the dark
- Losing interest in playing or doing hobbies
- Being sad and crying more than usual for no reason
“Of course, it isn’t easy for children to understand the situation. Parents should stay calm and not panic so that their children feel safe,” she suggested.
Do you notice changes in your children?
Most common changes in school-age children during the pandemic affect their moods. These, according to Dr Hapsari, are related to the problem of limited interaction between peers, online learning with limited explanations from the teacher along with being given plenty of assignments, social anxiety when dealing with groups of people, as well as addiction to the internet, games, and gadgets. “There are many problems with speech delay and tantrums in younger children, too,” she added.
The changes Dr Hapsari noted seemingly correlate with our lives shifting online. Indeed, hybrid learning was recently introduced – apparently, it remains a hazy concept, similar to how the rest of our future plans are. I often hear complaints from parents regarding when their children will resume face-to-face learning, like their good old days. However, online learning is something that children must apparently come to terms with, though negative impacts arise from the prolonged situation.
“Whether we realise it or not, online schools make students much lazier than before. One of the most obvious examples is about getting up early. Children following through the face-to-face school model have to get up early, whereas, in the online school method, they tend to be more flexible to wake up later,” said the Surabaya-born doctor.
Aside from that, other issues include being unable to understand the lesson well and more frequent exposure to gadgets. “This will indirectly, of course, have a bad impact on those who later can become addicted. If children’s gadget usage isn’t supervised, they’ll be affected by other negative impacts from gadgets such as pornography, online games, etc,” she explained.
Wondering how you can prevent your children from being overwhelmed?
Here are several activities and actions you can try:
- Build children’s relationships with their friends. Parents can use video calls to keep their children connected to their peers.
- Encourage children to do light exercise every day. Light physical movement can actually help improve mood and reduce the stress experienced by children.
- Invite children to enjoy their favourite music. Parents can also add fun dance moves so that the child’s mood improves again.
- Entertain children by giving them free time and invite them to explore their favourite activities. Also, spare time to regularly do things together.
- Parents can invite children to help with activities at home. This way, parents receive an extra hand in completing housework, too.
- Gardening is an interesting activity that can be done together with children.
- Meet the needs of rest, vitamins, and nutrients that children require.
- Encourage children’s spirituality. Parents can invite children to pray or show gratitude for their current situation.
- Avoid gadgets or information on social media about the pandemic.
These tips allow families to cultivate deeper bonding relationships, especially during a time of uncertainties and major changes. Perhaps one day, when I do have a mini-me, I can follow these tips.
“If parents notice a change in behaviour that leads to symptoms of stress and overwhelm, you should immediately ask a professional about your child’s mental health condition, such as a child psychiatrist or child clinical psychologist, so that the children’s mental wellbeing is maintained,” concluded Dr Hapsari.
Dr Hapsari is available for consultation on Wednesdays to Saturdays at 9am-1pm and Thursdays at 4-6pm in Pondok Indah Hospital, Bintaro Jaya. You can also find her at Eka Hospital, BSD on Tuesdays at 5-7pm and Thursdays at 1-3pm. Or visit Smartkid Klinik, Tanjung Duren on Wednesdays and Fridays between 2:30 and 6:30pm.