“If he feels hot (it’s summer), he asks us to take his temperature. If his legs are sore from running, he asks if it’s a Covid symptom,” tweeted Ritesh. The tweet went viral touching a chord in many parents who spoke of similar incidents of their children being lost and confused amid Covid fear.
Psychologists and counsellors said growing up in a pandemic is tough and cited cases of children disturbed by the virus. “We received a call from a parent who said his son, in class 8, is in such fear after his friend’s father tested positive that he wets his bed. We received another call about two sisters who cover their head with blanket whenever Covid news is on TV,” said Nagasimha G Rao, director, Child Rights Trust.
A close friend’s six-year-old daughter cries every time he steps out of the house for a walk. She’s convinced ‘there’s Covid outside’. My children asked me how kids who have no parents live,” Ritesh added.
“In the second wave, multiple people in a family are falling ill. With many more people contracting the virus, chances of kids encountering the infection in the immediate circle are more,” said Dr John Vijay Sagar, head, department of child and adolescent psychiatry, Nimhans.
Children often reflect the increasing anxiety in adults around them. “Children are emotional sponges and pick up anxiety from the immediate psychological environment even if adults may not share it directly. Because of school holidays, children’s minds are not engaged enough. They don’t have outdoor play or peers, who could distract them from despair,” said Dr Kakli Gupta, psychotherapist at Manask.
“At our hospital, we see two groups of children: One with pre-existing neurodevelopmental condition or mental illness; this exhibits exacerbation of symptoms with Covid stress. The other group presents a new mental illness precipitated by the stress. Many times, kids are unaware of details. Give them basic information about the virus and the precautions needed. Have open discussions, clarify their doubts. Avoid too much information about death,” said Dr John.
Apart from anxiety, psychologists and child psychiatrists have been seeing behavioural problems — irritability, anger, aggression, sleep disorders, mood swings and increase in tantrum. “A major cause is a lack of routine in their lives as schools are still shut. Excessive screen time in young children and gadget-addictive behavior in teenagers has increased. This leads to conflict between children and parents, when parents try to regulate the screen time,” said Dr Yesheswini Kamaraju, director, Reach Clinic.
Sulata Shenoy, director of Turning Point, said the issues with children were different at different points of the lockdown. “In April-May 2020, it was about the new experience of lockdown and online classes. In January, we saw children turning anxious about returning to school. Now, there’s a sense of hopelessness in the kids who come to us,” she said.
“Have a routine at home: Fun time, meal time and exercise time. Help children pick up hobbies. Be a role model in handling stress…” Dr Yesheswini added.