As a parent, concerns involving our children growth is a top priority. With the sudden emergence of COVID-19 in our lives, our lifestyle as we know it, has changed so much and it affects our children just as much as it affects us.
How and what can we do and help our children to grow better in these circumstances?
Well, Motherhood Story managed to get Dr Vijaya Mohan, a paediatrician at Columbia Asia Hospital – Cheras for the past 10 years! Dr Vijaya shared a lot of insights on why children behave the way they are and how they cope with the pandemic in this episode of AskMeDoctor! Season 3.
Now, let’s get into the questions and answers.
Q1: How does the new norm’s lack of cognitive and social stimulation affect children?
Dr Vijaya Mohan: I think it affects everybody, including adults as well. And as for children, somewhat, some of them tend to cope better and some kids don’t cope too well.
So, they have different issues depending on the family; their location, the size of the family. If the family is in the house, they will have better coping skills. Those with a single child; the children will be a bit delayed sometimes, in terms of speech.
Because there is nobody to interact with. I do see some kids coming to the clinic and they are speech delayed, their interaction is poor, they haven’t interacted socially at all.
Because they are isolated. So, that’s affecting many of the kids today. And I think it will take some time for them to come out of it as well.
Q2: How do social restrictions affect children’s interpersonal skills?
Dr Vijaya Mohan: I think all these things, there are also some good things that came out of COVID-19. We are more aware of viruses, and people are more aware about personal hygiene. So, they are washing their hands, they are using hand sanitisers.
So, those are the good things and there is more awareness of viruses. But, it will take time for them to insight people because the fear is there today. The fear of the virus via interaction. But, I think kids being kids, over time, they will overcome their fears and they will be team players and they will be quite happy to go to school again.
Q3: What are the possible long term effects on children living through this pandemic?
Dr Vijaya Mohan: Children, in a sense, have a good resilience; which means they can adapt quite well. So, I think in the long term, children will just adapt to the new normal.
For them, wearing a face mask will be something that they are quite used to. I think older people would find it more difficult to adapt sometimes. Wearing a mask; they do forget.
While kids in general, learn very fast. When the parents say, “Okay let’s go out”, they are going to look for their masks. And then, they are going to get the hand sanitiser.
So, that will be a new norm for some time to come. I think that’s a good thing. And I think with kids, we don’t have to worry too much. They will eventually adapt because they are quite resilient.
More resilient than us, adults.
Q4: Children have higher energy levels compared to adults. Can restricting that energy affects their behaviour?
Dr Vijaya Mohan: By staying at home actually, they don’t have enough physical activity. Physical activity in children releases a lot of hormones, oxytocin; the happy hormone.
So, if they are not getting enough play time, they are going to get affected.
I always advise parents to take them out to the field and have some fun. Only then, will they be happy and they will not be so stressed staying at home.
Schools, the same thing. I think when they go to school, they are going to meet their friends, it is going to be their play time.
You cannot tell kids, “Go to school, no playing”. They are going to have fun in school.
And over time they will get over this pandemic and distress that they have at home.
They are going to be quiet. They are going to be stressed at home.
Some of them will show anger, tantrums, poor appetite and not eating well. Many of them are not eating well. And irritability, they get angry very fast.
So, that’s happening a bit already, I can see them in the clinic. Hopefully, they get to go out more and those things are reduced.
But, I do see kids with problems. And obviously to overcome that is by taking them out more.
Like you said, they can go to the park. They can go to the open spaces. They need to go out. It’s time to go out, actually. Yeah, for all of us, I guess!
Q5: How does stress experienced by parents affect their children?
Dr Vijaya Mohan: Stress by the parents definitely affects children. Because they look at the parents.
If the parents are stressed, the children get stressed as well. So, it’s important for parents not to stress children out too much with their workload at home. Many are working from home and they have their own stressors with work. Children do not understand what is working from home or working from the office.
So, we need not stress ourselves too much at home because the kids are going to be there. I think over time, as parents go back to work, that will distress the kids as well. I think parents have to go back to work sometimes; to their offices.
Q6: Does online learning work for children?
Dr Vijaya Mohan: Personally, I don’t think so. If it’s for a short period, I think it is fine. They are quite excited with the online learning. But, if it goes on for few months and months, they start to lose interest and they start to lose some classroom skills as well.
And I think when they don’t see their friends, there is no motivation for them to study sometimes. A lot of things happen in the class. Online class is fine for a short period of time but I think after that you have to go back to school.
There are some kids who don’t have the opportunity to have a proper online device, they have poor Internet connections and these children are affected even more.
We need to look at everybody and I think the only way is to start school again, to be fair to everybody.
Q7: How to recognise signs of stress in children?
Dr Vijaya Mohan: Signs of stress; I think I have mentioned a little bit earlier:
Signs of stress in children
- Gets anxious
- Having poor appetite
- Shows temper tantrums
- Changes in behaviours
- Not mixing with family much
So, we need to identify those signs in children at home early. Parents can also do more things to show love; they can play games with them at home. But I think parents should identify the signs of stress in their children early.
And they can do that by noting changes in behaviour or eating habits as well.
What I have noticed is that eating habits are a problem now. They are not eating well and they are losing weight, actually.
Because when you are not feeling well, you don’t have an appetite. Plus, you are at home, the hormones are not there, the happy hormones are not coming out.
Final words from Dr Vijaya:
“Don’t stress your kids too much. Go out and have fun. Look into their diets. Take more fresh fruits and vegetables and cut down on processed foods.”
Columbia Asia Hospital – Cheras
MBBS (India), MRCPCH (UK)
This article first appeared in Motherhood.com.my, 9 November 2021.