WHEN the pandemic hit, we are all caught off guard. And with the changes it brought, coping up with the situation is a struggle for many.
But if adults were affected, how much more are the children?
Explaining a complex concept like the Covid-19 pandemic to a child can be challenging. Perhaps the most challenging part is how to make them understand that they can’t play outside, or go to school yet because a virus is still around or how to respond when they ask questions if a relative or friend test positive for the disease.
Registered social worker Lyka Lucena, who served as Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) Officer for Médecins Sans Frontières’ (MSF or Doctors Without Borders) Covid-19 response in the Philippines, said in a recently concluded online forum that due to restrictions caused by the pandemic, less social support from non-family members like teachers, classmates and friends affect the whole development of the children.
She said children are supposed to be outdoors playing and enjoying their childhood with friends, but all these have to be shifted online.
For parents like Marc and Sharm Miguel Macalua, it was like pausing their kids’ childhood for a year now.
However, Sharm said they are making so much effort in creating all virtual and home-based activities for their children exciting. Sharm is a Smart Parenting Ambassador and former athlete while Marc is working as a marketing professional.
“Initially, kids are generally happy and fun about it because there is no school and they get to see us most of the time, but after months, that’s the time they were starting to ask questions. They are trying to process why mom and dad are always here,” Marc, who has kids ages four, eight and 10, shared.
Father Elbert Or, an internationally published author of comics and children’s books shared that his three-year-old daughter reminds him constantly to wear a mask and face shield whenever he leaves the house.
Lyka said what makes children exceptional is their resilience and quick-adaptive mechanism.
“This is because their family gives them enough emotional support and they were able to explain things effectively. Some children enjoyed it because masks feel like a costume. It all boils down on how we explain it to them,” she said.
She also underscored that such is not the case for every child. She said Covid-19 effects on children vary.
“For me, my kid is an extrovert. The struggle for him is we usually go out in the park for biking or walking because we live in a village but he’s now deprived of these activities because of Covid-19,” Regina Layug Rosero of MSF’s Southeast & East Asia and Pacific (SEEAP) Project said.
Davao City-based lifestyle blogger Ara Casas-Tumuran shared that when her daughter Yanna got bored after playing alone, she would tell her that she wanted to go to the park or to the province where her grandparents live.
“Good thing we can now call them through video chat. It somehow fills Yanna’s boredom,” she said.
This is also true especially to adolescents who are supposedly in the stage of exploration.
“Adolescence is the time when they want to take risks, they are very impulsive, and the emotions are too high. It is important to talk to them, ask them about what they feel, how they feel, we need to be consistently supportive, we need to understand they’re going to deal with the changes of their bodies,” Lyka explained.
She added giving space and responsibilities is important, especially that some of their supposed activities got delayed due to the pandemic.
“Maybe we can compromise and let them decide partly on some decisions in the house. Give them autonomy and let them feel that we support them at this period with the pandemic,” the social worker said.
Toddlers are naturally inquisitive and explaining something as complex as Covid-19 can be a hard task as a parent.
“When Yanna gets bored and curious we have to patiently deal with it. We should always prepare our answers to their endless and impossible questions. For questions about Covid-19 I always tell her straight to the point that there is a virus and it is dangerous,” Ara said.
Lyka said due to the pandemic children may experience difficulty in concentration, extreme boredom, irritation, restlessness, and some may even feel anxious and lonely. She underscored that one of the red flags to know their child is having a tough time is if s/he stops doing things they like pre-pandemic.
Sleeping patterns and eating habits are also good indicators.
"It can affect their mental health negatively if we fail to explain to them properly what is happening,” she said.
But how to effectively explain the pandemic to a child?
First, explain in the simplest form possible, Lyka said.
“The manner of explanation should be age-appropriate and not technical. We know that it works by asking them ‘Do you understand this? Can you tell me what I just explained to you and say it back?’ If not, then we need to lower the level of explanation that we made,” Lyka said.
Another effective way is to give the children a space to ask whatever questions and to let them know that anything that they are feeling now is valid.
In situations when a relative or friend gets infected with the virus, Lyka said parents can encourage their children to help out by writing letters, making cards and helping in food preparation just to make them feel they are doing something for their loved ones.
“It is also the time to teach the young ones empathy. Why we cannot just go outside is not because just for ourselves but also for the whole family, elders, frontliners, and the whole community,” she said.
Meanwhile, to further explain the pandemic better to the children, MSF launched in December a children’s activity book called "What Can You Do About Covid-19?"
Or, who is the illustrator of the book, said it can help parents and children understand the pandemic more by using simple explanations and engaging activities.
“Children can learn not only how this virus works, but also how to protect themselves.
The activity book also offers parents some suggestions on how to talk to children about Covid-19,” he said.
Lyka said the activity book is a good starting point in helping children cope with the situation.
A one-on-one, undivided-attention activity with your child even for at least 10 minutes a day can also go a long way, Lyka said.
Most importantly, she said parents should also take a breather for their own health.
“Please know that you (parents) are allowed to rest, you also need to take care of your physical and mental health. You need to be healthy and happy because your vibes can also be picked up by your kids. If you’re happy, they can feel that too,” Lyka said.