Experts advise parents how to help children with pandemic anxiety

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Giving your children attention, extra time to connect with them and showing them affection is essential.
Giving your children attention, extra time to connect with them and showing them affection is essential.

The South African Covid-19 lockdown which started in March 2020 continues to have a huge impact on children, as much as it has on adults.

Not only did families have to deal with the loss of their loved ones, but many could not get the chance to grieve their loved ones due to the restrictions on inter-provincial travel, funeral guest limits, financial constraints and many other issues as a result of the lockdown.

While dealing with such issues, and more, parents are doing all they can to stay positive and continue to take care of their children the best way possible.

Parenting under lockdown has not been easy

Parent24 has been helping parents with ways to communicate to your children during this time and signs of anxiety that parents can look out for in their children, and more parenting tips to get through this difficult time.

Expert help

While the lockdown is now lifting, the Covid-19 virus is still a very real danger, so we talked to Dr Luzuko Magula and Dr Anisa Vahed from Ingress Healthcare to gather some information to help families get through the uncertain times ahead.

Dr Magula is currently pursuing his Fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and a Master of Philosophy degree in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Dr Anisa Vahed is a paediatric general practitioner, she completed her specialization in Paediatrics and Child Health in 2019 with University of Cape Town where she spent most her time working in Red Cross Children’s Hospital, Groote Schuur Hospital Neonatal Unit and New Somerset Hospital.

Read the questions and answer series below to learn some ways to help your child at home:

1. How do we help children who are in distress due to the death of a loved one?

Dr Magula says that help is available in many forms from parents, other family members, the community, NGOs, Health Care and allied professionals both in the education departments, local health sectors, churches and community leaders, to mention a few.

He adds that it is the parent’s responsibility to seek such interventions and platforms for their children.

Dr Magula urges the family members to contact the social workers for children without parents, so that no child is left behind.

Also see: Local doctor explains the rise of the anti-vaxx movement 

2. What are the symptoms of anxiety in children?

Dr Magula says that anxiety symptoms are common in children and adolescents, and early detection is key to early interventions and treatment that may prevent it from becoming a full-blown disorder.

He explains, "the diagnosis of an anxiety disorder can be made by a mental health professional trained in detection and diagnosis of anxiety disorders in children and adolescents and if you suspect one from your child it is important to seek professional help via your local clinic or family doctor". 

Below, Dr Magula shares symptoms and behaviours parents can look out for to detect anxiety issues:

Anxiety or Depression symptoms in children:

  • Continuous sadness and crying
  • Displays of anger and frustrations
  • Withdrawal and avoiding interaction with family members
  • Constant arguing and fighting with siblings and even with you as a parent
  • Appetite and weight loss could be other indicators
  • Refusing to do their chores, back chatting and defying rules
  • At extreme levels, children may also harm themselves
  • Substance abuse

Dr Magula says that anxiety in children is usually accompanied by other mental health issues including depression. 

Additionally, those with access may self-medicate with substances, so please ensure to seek help from a mental health professional when in doubt or if your child’s symptoms are out of proportion from how you know them.

Must see: Tapping: a great way to help kids deal with anxiety

3. How do we help our children cope if they are already showing some of these signs?

Dr Vahed believes that it is essential that we respond to children’s reactions in a supportive way.

She urges parents to listen to their children’s concerns and highlights that giving your children attention, spending extra time to connect with them and showing them affection is essential.

She says that parents need to reassure their children and if possible, make opportunities for the child to play and relax in a safe environment.

4. How to help children if they are at school most of the time?

Dr Vahed believes that keeping regular routines and schedules as far as possible or help create new ones in a new environment including school helps children a great deal. She believes that alerting the teachers about your concerns and being in close communication with the teachers help very much.

Dr Vahed advises parents to continue to look for assistance for their children.

She believes that contacting local social workers, general practitioners, paediatricians, psychologists and psychiatrists can assist your child with any concerns you may have during this time.

She suggests that parents should not only rely on the teachers at schools, but should look for all the help available for their children.

Also read: 'Yes, kids can get Covid-19': Three paediatricians explain what’s known about children and coronavirus 

5. How to make sure that your children are safe at school?

Dr Vahed says that children may need to be reminded that although they may not get the full symptoms themselves, they can infect their parents and elders, and so their involvement is very important and will create a sense of care from them to their parents and loved ones.

He says that constant communication about measures in place to fight the pandemic and explanation of our levels of lockdown can contribute in creating a sense of hope that we are gradually moving forwardseven if things seem to be at their worst now.

6. How can parents keep their children hopeful and looking to the future?

On one hand, Dr Vahed believes that parents can keep their children optimistic by doing these things:

1. Parents can use countries that have managed to fight the virus as an example and assure their children that we too are headed that way.

2. Parents can also refer to past pandemics that we successfully treated and eradicated. Include talks about designated hospitals to treat the severely ill and ongoing research about a possible vaccine soon.

3. Parents can try and link what each career is currently contributing to fighting the pandemic from health professionals, IT specialists, business, leaders, educators etc and instil a sense of hope how they can contribute at the present and in future.

Must read: 'Do people have to die?': Here's why kids are asking such big questions during the pandemic

On the other hand, Dr Magula says that parents need to reassure the children that by cooperating with the prescribed safety measures for controlling the pandemic, they are playing their part in flattening the curve.

He says this may instil a sense of responsibility and they may feel that they are also contributing in the eradication process of the virus which they would also be actively involved if they participated and this may instil a sense of hope as we all fight against the virus in unity.

Dr Magula says that the virus is upon us but that should not be the only focus of families, rather they should continue to engage in their usual activities including playing and bonding in safe practices and spaces.

He adds that learning at schools continues and should remain a positive and hope reinforcing environment.

Overall, Dr Magula believes that family members should be kind to each other, and that parents should continue to be kind to their children and encourage their children to be kind to other children at school too.

Let us know how your children feel about the easing up of the lockdown regulations and what this means to you as a parent.

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