Going Back to School - How to cope with Anxiety in children during COVID 19 Pandemic
After two years of wreaking havoc new COVID cases are coming down and the government has announced a gradual re-opening of schools and colleges. Undoubtedly this decision will help the cause of education because online education has not been as successful in imparting the same level of teaching, attention, and mentoring to students as the traditional model of classroom teaching. But as a parent and doctor it also gives me an uneasy feeling. We are still expecting a third wave of the COVID epidemic, and almost none of the children have been vaccinated so far!
|Online education has not been as successful|
as traditional classroom teaching
That is a cause for anxiety for most of the parents, whose children will be joining schools. When a topic of conversation enters a living room, children then get involved too.
Just like us adults, children too have been exposed to the perils of the COVID 19 epidemic and the Social media hype surrounding it, because of which they are equally at risk of developing anxiety in this pandemic.
In their study, "Practitioner review: health anxiety in children and young people in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic " A H Ferguson and K Cooper have concluded that COVID 19 related anxiety in children is very much there and cannot be ignored.
Most of the time, the anxiety is proportionate to the circumstances and threat perception but sometimes it can be a disproportionate response to the situation.
What can be the signs of anxiety in children during the COVID 19 pandemic ?
1. Complaining of a headache
2. Complaining of pain in the stomach
3. Not getting a good sleep
4. Pounding of heart, Feeling dizzy, sweating
5. Being worried about the future or talking about bad things happening
6. Fear of being alone or by themselves, clinging
7. Showing less interest in fun activities or studies
Risk Factors for Anxiety in Children during the COVID 19 pandemic
1. History - A previous experience of witnessing the illness or death of a loved one can trigger more anxious behavior in children.
2. Anxiety in parents - Children are sponges that absorb everything around them - be it negative talk or a happy vibe, so we must create an atmosphere of hope and confidence at home.
3. Excessive media consumption - With every child having their smartphone nowadays, they have easy access to the internet that can expose them to all types of negative news and affect their mental health.
4. Female gender - Studies have shown that girls are more at risk of developing anxiety.
5. Medical Profession - A child with one or both parents associated with the medical profession may have more anxiety because of the increased exposure risk of the parent/s.
6. Pre-existing diseases - Children with pre-existing disease conditions like Type 1 Diabetes, Heart disease, Kidney disease, etc. are more at risk and can develop more anxiety.
The most common causes of COVID related anxiety in children are :
1. The fear of health-related consequences of suffering from COVID - The child may fear suffering a painful experience or may fear for his/her life.
2. The fear of social consequences - As discussed in my earlier post, COVID 19 patients need to be isolated and that isolation from the family and friends can create anxiety, depression and the patient may also experience stigma.
The child may also have a fear that they may be the cause of bringing the infection home to their family.
3. Fear of Economic and Educational Consequences - The child may fear an increase in the economic burden of his/her family if they get sick or hospitalized. They may fear the loss of valuable study time if they do fall sick and need to be quarantined as a consequence.
What can help in reducing the anxiety of going back to school ?
1. Self-efficacy - Self-efficacy means a belief in one's competency to handle a situation, this belief can be affected by past successes or failures in similar situations.
A child, who has seen a loved one suffer from the infection and recovering from it successfully will be able to handle the anxiety better compared to a child who has lost a loved one or has seen intense suffering of a loved one.
Self-efficacy can be boosted by talking to the child regularly, becoming an active listener and boosting their morale. Stressing upon safety measures like social distancing, hand washing, wearing masks, and not sharing food to stay safe is also important but without causing panic. Lead by example.
2. Healthy routines - Having a routine helps the body and mind cope better with stressful situations. Ensure that your child has an early 3. bedtime and eats balanced meals at proper times.
3. Exercise - Exercising regularly not only keeps the body healthy but also keeps the mind healthy. Know more about it, here.
4. Seek Medical Attention- If, despite all the above measures, your child still feels anxious, do not hesitate to take medical help from a health care professional. This process will include a psychological assessment, counseling therapy, or if needed the doctor may suggest medication to alleviate severe anxiety.
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