The corona virus and the mental health of children. These were, and continue to be, the strangest days of our lives. We have never experienced the whole world united in fighting a killer disease. We have no experience of this kind of situation. Previous viruses of this nature seemed to arrive and disappear, but in other parts of the world, not in Europe. Not on our doorstep. Times change and this is a massive wake up call to deal with this one and to be better prepared for the next one. It has affected every person. We have had to radically change our daily routines. We can no longer intereact with other people like before, including close family members and friends. At best, we can work from home where possible. Many have lost their jobs or are thrown into great uncertainty. We all salute the health workers and everyone linked to that activity who are risking their lives every day to take care of the sick.
In many ways, in The Netherlands we are lucky. The ‘soft’ lockdown we are coming out of left us many freedoms. Things are now being relaxed, but we are now in the ‘new normal’ for the coming months. However, we will also be dealing with the mental health repercussions for many, many years. This is very true for the adults under more strain at work and financial pressures at home. But what about all the children and adolescents and their ‘new normal’ ?
As the schools start to reopen, many children will be looking forward to returning. They have been at home a long time. If they have a strong family unit that is organised and disciplined to home school, this can work. But what if they do not, as if often the case? Is the strain on the parents causing too many rows and tension at home? Are the young people scared of infecting their grandparents? How are all these tensions affecting the mental health of young people at this time? And what can we do now to be aware of the causes, in order to reduce issues in the coming months and years?
In order to understand better what issues are most affecting children and the youth in these difficult times, I asked some questions of Clint Steenveld. Clint is a psychologist in Amsterdam and he has been helping the expat community for years with a wide range of mental health issues. One of the areas he is very experienced in helping expat families and children, specifically in the areas of loneliness, isolation, anxiety, grief, anger and role changes at home. You can find his details at the end of the article, but for now here are some questions I asked him. The answers will be useful for many parents.
Hi Clint. I know you are a busy person. Thanks for taking the time from your schedule to answer my questions.
Q1. These have been difficult days, especially for children and adolescents. What simple steps can parents take moving forward, in order to alleviate the strain on their children ?
Q2. As parents, what behavioural signs should we be aware of and able to identify in our children, in order to address issues early on with the mental health of children ?
Firstly, always consult with a health professional if you are uncertain. Do not attempt to diagnose your own child. Next, aim to keep yourself in check and steer clear of hysteria, while checking facts and working with common sense.
Changes – an increase or decrease in various behaviours and functions- is generally what you need to look out for. These changes need to noticeably different to you or anyone else who spends significant time with them, or even to your child. The changes also need to be sustained for longer than just a couple of days to a week (depending on the acuteness and severity of the change) before you start thinking something is really wrong. Things to be on the lookout for are: sleeping and eating patterns; bodily functions, e.g. toilet habits; level of activity and stillness; degree of interest, pleasure and engagement or disengagement from tasks, activities and people; amount of time spent on-screen as well as off-screen; emotional expression and range of expression (much more than usual, much less than usual); degree of curiosity. Schoolwork, sport and extramural activities are also areas to look for changes.
Aches and pains are another sign of potential problems: headaches and tummy aches are the most common in children. Of course, you need to have these kinds of things checked out medically if they’re persistent, severe and start interfering with the child’s functioning. Other common physical signs of stress in children: rashes, frequent colds, falling more often than usual.
Lastly, if you or your children have gone off-piste a bit from the usual, try to gently coach yourself and them back again. When in doubt, course-correct. If you cannot do so or the problem behaviour, sign or symptom becomes worse or is persistent, then you would need to consider professional support.
Q3. Can you recommend activities that parents and their children can do together to lighten tense atmospheres at home ?
Q4. As grown ups, what can we do to improve the general situation at home? In these strained times, how can we be more patient and understanding?
Q5. Which long terms effects have you identified that parents should be aware of in their children ?
Thank you Clint for these extremely useful insights into the mental health of children and your time. These are indeed strange days and we all have a role to play. Identifying the causes of stresses and strains at home can be useful in order to reduce their negative effects. Thank you again for your insights, which will be very useful for all families during these difficult times.
You can find lots of information on the Clint Steenveld website.
Phone: 062 538 1845
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