Pay attention to your child's mental health
Think of an escape game room. You’re locked in with your friends or family and you have to find your way out together. Time passes and pressure increases. People lose patience, someone gets angry. Others become quiet and distant. In a lot of ways, 2020 has been an escape game room.
It started when parents and children locked themselves in their houses. That’s when Kriti Jalan, a licensed counsellor specializing in child and relationship counselling, heard children say,
“We’re sick of our parents.”
“I hate that I’m not going to have a farewell.”
“I don’t know what the point of studying is.”
The pandemic has been hard on everyone. Working parents struggle to manage their time. Remote workers try to stay motivated and keep their spirits up. And children? Can you imagine what it would be like to not meet your friends for eight months? Or how you would feel if you were robbed of your graduation party?
To adults, these concerns seem small. But just as everyone’s life has changed, children today are going through an unprecedented period too. We spoke to Kriti, who is also an alumna of John Hopkins University, to understand the pandemic's impact on children's mental health. Some of her answers were truly unexpected. Excerpts from our conversation with her:
We’re all at home – parents are working from home and children are taking classes from home. What is likely to happen in such a situation?
I hear children saying they’re sick of their parents. On the other side, I hear parents saying they didn’t know their child was like this. We behave differently with different groups of people, with friends, family, colleagues, teachers. The pandemic has blurred those boundaries. Because people are forced to stay at home, they feel claustrophobic. It’s not to do with where you are, it’s more to do with where you cannot go.
What are children going through?
To begin with, there is a sense of isolation. Children aren’t used to being with their thoughts for so long. For most people, going out is a stressbuster from their own reality. People don’t have that anymore. There is added pressure when it comes to education. Children feel that they aren’t able to cope. They’re also asking themselves what the point of it all is. To many, it feels like nothing is going back to normal.
When there is a conflict with parents, children would go out, maybe meet their friends or go cycle. Now there is no release of that energy. There is frustration and anger.
Many children feel that they’re missing out on their final year, missing their farewell party or their graduation. So there is helplessness and irritation.
What can parents do?
Honestly, I would tell parents to keep education aside for some time and just ask their children how they’re feeling. Don’t talk about their classes or where they want to go to college. Just ask them how they are. Have an emotional conversation and give your children the space to say that they’re scared or that they’re tired of being at home.
Talk to them about the virus. It’s a tough time, but ask them if something good has come out of the virus. We’re talking about a vaccine now. So there are good things happening too.
I would say just spend five minutes after dinner having real conversations with your children.
And what about teachers and educators? How do they need to mould their approach to this time? The rules are not the same anymore.
I think teachers need to be clear about their expectations from students. Teachers know what their students are capable of. They just need to be aware of that, and be kind.
It’s also important for teachers to think about where education is going and where it might be in the next five years because of the pandemic. Do they change how they teach? These are questions they should ask themselves.
Institutions should have mental health classes, organize regular check-ins for students with counselors.
A lot of people have been saying that the pandemic has led to a mental health epidemic. How far do you agree with that?
The mental health epidemic was already there. But the pandemic forced people to look at themselves in a different way. We’ve never been more vulnerable as in 2020. In fact I think the pandemic has opened up the conversation about mental health.
We’re still a long way from the ideal. I would say when schools and institutions begin to have regular mental health check-ins, we’ll have normalized it. I feel institutions need to become flagbearers for mental health.
Kriti is the founder of MindtheGap. Reach out for counseling here: https://www.mindth3gap.com/