Parenting amid the pandemic
Parenting is not an easy task even in normal times, and the pandemic has made it a more challenging job. Since the situation created by the Covid has affected the children’s lives too, most of the parents find it difficult to handle their kids. They are experiencing enormous lifestyle changes in their children; many of these changes have occurred for the first time in human history. Children’s dependence on the gadgets, for example, has never been seen in the past. No earlier generation of children has been depended on technology and gadgets for educational purposes to the extent as the present generation of children has been since the outbreak of the Covid 19. Although online education is not a new concept, but this is for the first time that the schools have been closed for months together and the online method of education has almost replaced normal schooling.
Moreover, experts say in the ongoing pandemic the children are affected by things like maintaining physical distancing, remaining holed up in their homes, wearing facemask and other such precautionary measures. Many of them find these things stressful and intolerable and they feel fearful due to these new experiences. They also miss their academic, creative, and fun activities. They also yearn for their school friends, outings and it has become tough for them to keep a sense of calm. Consequently, the lack of calm and unpleasant lifestyle changes in children has caused great parenting challenges.
To understand the challenges of parenting in times of pandemic, KASHMIR IMAGES spoke with many concerned people and experts. They say the situations created by the pandemic have led to psychological and mental health implications for the children and adolescents; and has thrown up unprecedented challenges for both parents and the children.
As a father of two little girls, I can tell you that parenting has turned up as a challenging task since the outbreak of the pandemic. My elder daughter Hoorain was in class 2 when the pandemic started early last year. Before that, she had a set routine of her daily activities. She would get up at 7 in the morning to start her day. After returning from school, she would spend time playing and doing her homework before going to bed in the evening. Every evening she would share with us her experience at the school. However, with the closure of the schools, her routine abruptly changed. Now she knows that punctuality is no more a compulsion for her. Even she knows that while having an online class she is not under the proper surveillance of her teacher as she used to be in a classroom. Here comes the role of parents: To ensure children get benefited from the online mode of education, parents have to be with them while kids have their online classes. This is simply time-consuming for parents. The problem is aggravated if both parents are working. Also, parents have to provide their gadgets and internet facility to their children for online classes. Even separate rooms are needed for them so that they are not disturbed while they are learning through the remote mode of education.
My younger daughter Noorain was yet to be admitted to the school when the pandemic started. In fact, we were planning to admit her to some playschool those days. Almost two years have passed since, and Noorain is yet to see the door of the school. However, she, like her elder sibling learns through an online mode of education. Sometimes I feel apprehensive about the excessive use of screens by my young kids as we know it might impact the physical and psychological health of the children.
As per my experience as a parent, I think kids have lost the grooming environment that schools provided them. Earlier, they would spend most of their time in classrooms with their classmates and it adequately helped their mental development. Due to the closure of schools children have also lost an environment of creative and fun activities. Also, they lack a face-to-face interaction with their teachers and classmates. Since they have been out of school for quite a long time, they feel bored because of being confined to the four walls of the room. They ask questions. They want to know why do they have to wear face masks all the time and why can’t they go to school. It is very difficult to make young kids understand the gravity of the situation. I can tell you that the situation caused by the pandemic has increased parenting challenges.
Like everyone, I have been grappling with the unprecedented situations, caused by the pandemic, for more than a year now. For me, the toughest challenge has been maintaining a sense of calm during all this time. I am so freaking bored that I find it difficult to see the new and positive perspectives of life. Though I know that everyone is in the same boat in terms of having difficulty with the dullness of the time; but what makes me different from others is my regret for not treasuring this precious time with creativity. I feel restless and lethargic since the day the pandemic started disrupting our routine life and drew an adverse effect on our set lifestyle. I miss the days when everything used to be normal. I am missing the morning hurry of getting things done in the pre-Covid era.
That well scheduled life has gone away. Sometimes I feel gadgets and internet has taken over our lives now. Social media has been working as a source of information as well as entertainment for us during the pandemic but it is damaging as well. I have experienced that excessive information is quite depressing. In a depressing environment, how can one be able to focus on positive aspects of life? To be frank enough, sometimes I feel hopeless for my tomorrow. In this disheartening situation, I try to distract myself from the negativity by reading books or scrolling through social media. But it does not work either. If feels that I have lost my concentration span.
As if all this was not enough, I lost my grandfather to Covid recently. It was an emotional turmoil for me. I had seen him last time when he was absolutely normal and vibrantly living. I feel sorry for my inability to see the dead body of my grandfather. He was taken straight away to the graveyard from the hospital where he remained admited for more than a week. A few days after his death, I entered his room and saw that everything was at its place in the room. Only my grandfather was missing. Then and there I realized how unpredictable life is.
In my opinion, all the occurrences in times of the pandemic have affected us deeply. This pandemic will surely go away but the scares it gave us will remain there in our memory always.
The Covid 19, since its outbreak, has been challenging for everyone because nobody knew how to deal with the difficulties thrown up by this novel disease. However, unlike children, adults were strong enough to cope with the problems caused by the disease. The children proved to be more vulnerable to the psychological and mental health complicacies set off by the pandemic.
Many children are continuously dealing with this psychological impact, particularly fear. Take an example of a child whose father or mother got infected and then the kid was asked not to go close to his or her infected parent. This unprecedented experience ought to lead the child to psychological or mental health complicacy. Similarly, the persistent lockdown, closure of schools, and Covid SOPs like maintaining social distancing, frequent sanitizing and face masking, and so on had an impact on these vulnerable minds. Vaccination might save us tackle the Covid in the future, but there is no vaccination for the damage of psychological or mental health, which a child has faced due to the situation created by the pandemic. This impact will remain there even after the pandemic fades away.
Parenting such children is a great challenge. The situation caused by the pandemic is a reminder for the parents and other caregivers that parenting is a process that starts from the birth of a child. Parenting is not only about taking care of the physical health of a child, rather it is about playing a role in the emotional, social and intellectual development of the child as well.
To help and guide people in this regard, we have started the Child Guidance and Wellbeing Centre (CGWC), affiliated with the Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences (IMHANS), Kashmir. The center was established in December 2018. However, it has contributed and worked enormously since the pandemic started early last year. The center had three components. First, an OPD service; where psychological and mental health issues of the children are addressed. Second, social awareness programme, through which we encourage parents to talk about the psychological and mental health issues of their children. We go to communities and schools for awareness purposes. Third, we provide training to the stakeholders such as parents, teachers, ASHA workers, and people working with the child-related NGOs, and so on. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the center through its helpline remained in touch with the parents. We try to make them understand the symptoms of the psychological problems of the kids. For example, we tell them if they find behavioral changes like anger or anxiety in their children; or change in their sleep pattern, or if they found reducing or exceeding the consumption of their food; they must get professional advice from the experts. From March last year till the May end this year, the center has organized more than 5500 sessions with the children. Most of the parents complain anger and screen addiction of their children. In such cases, we advise people to facilitate alternate activities for their children to reduce their dependence on gadgets. Also, we advise them to revive traditional storytelling culture and religious education for their children.
To conclude, I would say that as a child rights lawyer I consider this pandemic a child rights crisis; and the right to survival is of utmost importance in these times of crisis. We would be facing the challenges of this crisis even after the pandemic ends.
Most of the parents who bring their children to us for professional advice or treatment complain about agitating behavior and their excessive use of the screen by their children. We always try to interact with both the parents and the children. Both have complaints. For example, many parents who visit us complain that their kids do not show any interest in their studies. On the other hand, when we hear the children, they mostly complain of beating, screaming, shouting, and yelling at them by their parents.
We understand that all this is happening due to the situations caused by the Covid as the social cohesion has got disconnected due to this pandemic. For example, children have met loss of daily routine, loss of school learning, loss of peer interaction, and loss of social system. This situation has eventually built up uncertainty among them. Since the cognition modulation of children is already disturbed, they get some reactions into their brains. Many of them start behaving differently. They do several unusual things to fulfil their daily social needs. And parents consider this behavioural change in their kids an unacceptable act.
Since parents themselves are facing various kinds of challenges due to the situations caused by the pandemic, they too react improperly to the changing behaviour of their children. Their parenting has changed. Children too observe this change and it impacts them psychologically. Children start losing their self-confidence. They fall prey to stress, anxiety, and tension. This is the beginning. If this state of mind continues in children, they surely might be more vulnerable to any psychological problem in the near future.
In these cases, we mostly provide counselling to the parents rather than the children. We try teaching them effective parenting. We elders must understand that when a child’s emotional and social needs are not fulfilled, the outburst is through aggressive channels or their sexual behaviour. Parents must understand that their kids are psychologically impacted due to the situations caused by the pandemic and they deserve better care. If we fail to give proper care to such kids at this time of crisis, they would face the repercussions in the future as well. Even their intellectual level would be impacted and they will grow up with disturbing personality traits. We have to modify the traditional parenting pattern as per the requirement.
Compared to the adult population, the child and adolescent populations are at the receiving end in these times of pandemic because of their developmental age. Unlike children, adults have better thinking, emotional and financial resources; and all these things help them in coping with the difficulties caused by the pandemic. Particularly, adolescents are facing great challenges in these tough times. These youngsters were about to give direction to their carriers when the pandemic hit us and started destroying everything. They were about to start enhancing their social and intellectual skills. But the pandemic has rendered them helpless. All their aspirations have got halted, at least for the time being.
The adolescent age is a stage in which a human being gets groomed and starts learning life experiences. This is the age when people learn problem-solving skills. There are chances that many of these youngsters, who have fallen prey to the situations caused by the pandemic, might face emotional issues in their future lives because of the lack of experience.
Here comes the role of good parenting. Effective parenting can provide support to the emotional needs of these adolescents. Parents need to understand the sensitivity of their growing kids. Unfortunately, we are only worried about infections and do not pay heed to the other damage which this pandemic is causing to our children. The children need parental support in these challenging times.
As a clinical psychologist, I can tell you that parents need to spend quality time with their children, particularly with adolescents as they need support from their parents. Some people are always preaching and giving sermons to their kids. This is not the way to deal with them. They are supposed to be heard and their feelings need to be understood. This will help them maintain their self-esteem.