RIYADH: As Saudi Arabia enters its second month of home isolation, children are finding it increasingly difficult to cope with the new normal — and parents are facing the difficulty of explaining the dire situation to them.
If you ask any child these days, they know that the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is a germ or bug that can make them very ill and prevent them from going outside and hanging out with their friends. Sitting them down for a thorough talk and explaining the situation could ease their minds and put things in perspective.
Dr. Samirah Al-Ghamdi is the executive director of the National Program for Development and Behavioral Disorders at the Ministry of Health and a child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist and cognitive behavioral therapist. She shared with Arab News a few tips on how to speak to children candidly about the pandemic and how to deal with stress-related changes in their behavior.
Al-Ghamdi warned parents that children are sensitive to their environments and can easily become panicked if they see that their parents are worried.
“Anxiety can be transferred to children from parents and their surrounding environment. If parents are anxious or panicked, they must first take care of themselves. When talking to children, parents need to be calm and relaxed and reassure them by explaining all the information that they need according to their age. Parents need to be available to listen to a child’s questions and to be honest when answering them,” she said.
Al-Ghamdi also cautioned against letting children be exposed to too much outside information, particularly on TV and the internet. She advised parents to be truthful and offer just enough information as is sufficient to answer a child’s questions.
Al-Ghamdi also recommended that parents pay extra attention to health and hygiene practices.
“We need to teach them how to take care of themselves,” she said.
She advised parents on what to do should a family member become separated due to a mandatory quarantine. Keeping in regular contact via phone and video calls gives children a sense of security and comfort. In cases where the primary caregiver is separated from a child, parents need to ensure an alternative caregiver is provided.
A child’s environment is an important factor that determines whether he or she feels free to express emotions.
Adults must work alongside the child, on the same level, in order to achieve emotional closeness.
Khawla Al-Wahaib, Child Development expert
“Children should be encouraged to communicate their feelings in a safe and supportive environment. Not all children express emotions in the same way. Sometimes engaging in a creative activity, such as drawing, can facilitate communication. They need to express their feelings of anger, fear or sadness and learn how to cope with these feelings,” she said.
Children who are experiencing significant anxiety “need to learn how to relax using calming methods such as deep breathing or muscle relaxation,” Al-Ghamdi said. “Encourage your children to express their thoughts and challenge those thoughts until a rational conclusion can be reached,” she said.
In some cases, parental support alone may not be enough. Al-Ghamdi encouraged parents to seek assistance, where needed, from a certified professional.
Al-Ghamdi recommended keeping a regular routine and creating new ones to help children from becoming apathetic or depressed from being confined to the house.
“Encourage creativity — drawing, learning, playing — and relaxation,” she said.
Khawla Al-Wahaib is an expert in child development and a practitioner of the HighScope approach, a research-based method that promotes learning through hands-on active play that is aligned with the child’s developmental stage. She told Arab News how hands-on learning could help children adapt to the current state of things.
“Adults must be aware of a child’s interests, strengths and weaknesses and use those to convey a message. The younger the child, the harder it can be for them to grasp abstract concepts — things they can’t see or touch. We need to make it tangible for them. It’s also important that we share factual information with children. It builds trust,” she said.
She recommends engaging children in activities that will help them realize what the world is going through by bringing it to them in a safe way that they can understand.
“One method would be to create an environment for role-play — doctor-patient, a scientist in the lab, TV broadcaster, etc. — and bring up topics related to that issue. Adults must work alongside the child, on the same level, in order to achieve emotional closeness. Start with simple concepts, then gradually build on them,” she said.
She also recommends impressing upon them the importance of good hygiene through simple gestures, such as by playing with stuffed animals and demonstrating proper hand-washing techniques.
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Source: AN-Food and Health
How to talk to your kids about the COVID-19 pandemic