At home children – A parenting challenge amidst the Pandemic

The Pandemic has been unkind and incomprehensible for children, more than anyone else. In Kashmir, it has kept them out of school, for far more time than they had ever been due to the situation here. The unprecedented times are a challenge for parents of these children. Greater Kashmir Correspondent (GK) Zehru Nissa talks to renowned psychiatrist Prof Arshid Hussain (AH) about various aspects of bringing up at-home kids amidst COVID19. Child Psychiatrist, Dr Karar Hussain has chipped in his expert inputs in this interview.
At home children – A parenting challenge amidst the Pandemic
Representational Photo

GK: How do you see the pandemic from the point of view of kids, out of school and mostly confined?

AH: Schools are places for academic learning and provide the safe spaces where other developmental needs of the children are met. It gives structure, routine, predictability and various social and interpersonal skills to a child. Closure of schools means loss of such opportunities. But the current situation is such that it demands minimum exposure of children, resulting in home confinements. The best ways to deal with lack of school is to do home based scheduling and structuring of activity in a way that it encompasses education , sports , fun and socialization. Although very little social interactions are possible with the pandemic raging, safety protocols and adequate family time could help hover over.

GK: Does online education compensate for loss of school days?

AH: It's not possible to compensate for the loss of school days. We can just alleviate the losses. Online education can be helpful if it's components of structured and scheduled activities find space in a routine day. Current scenario demands use of digital platforms which although are not the ideal as we are wired to have actual "human touch"; Virtual modalities are never enough. Children are usually very flexible and adapt to the changes quickly.

 GK: The replacement of friends and classmates with gadgets and TV. How do you see it affecting kids?

AH: The children, though no fault of theirs, have been hurled into a world of cell phones, gaming, social media and television. Since the online classes also demand a long screen time, a child curious by nature, will try to explore other possibilities in the infinite world of the internet. Too much screen time takes time away from social learning and building relationships. Since everything and every information is available at fingertips, it leads to a dangerous world of instant gratification and quick solutions bypassing the regulation and solution oriented thinking patterns. It impairs development and maintenance of human social relationships which otherwise is a slow, arduous process. This is where our children might fall short. Without these skills, they are going to be confused and face difficulty in social settings and situations.

Not to paint a grim picture, I also see this as a temporary hurdle. Once this crisis is over children will bounce back to normalcy as they are not rigid in their habits or views. This attribute will help them pull out faster than adults.

GK:  The pandemic has barred children from entire social settings and situations? How do you see them shaping up?

AH:  Like I said,  it is a temporary hurdle, an aberration, a blip. These hurdles, aberrations and blips do not last long. Yes, as of now, there is no regular outlet for their energies and parents are too exhausted to keep them busy. There are no fixed timings or situations for " shaping up". These happen along with whatever situation is presented. Their growth is not halted, it has just taken another direction. This is why it is important to leave one's work/ worries aside and actually talk to your child about the current times and encourage creativity. This is a really good time to teach them how to think positively in adversity.

GK: The new paradigm of education and bringing kids up is a challenge for most parents? What do you get to hear from them?

AH:  The fact that children would be at school for at least 6 hours a day, took off most of the load for bringing up children solely at home. The narrative has changed. The children are home 24/7. The consensus in parents is that it is difficult, exhaustive, even frustrating at times. The scenario is very similar in most families – urban and rural. Parental fatigue has set in. This was supported by the fact that recently, while certain parent groups opposed the opening of schools amid pandemic, the other group wanted schools to resume normally. The two big questions in front of parents are: Survival or Education?

 GK: What advice do you share with parents who are dealt with new aggression and addiction among children, a post lock down phenomenon?

AH:  Patience. Parents need to communicate with their children. By communication I do not mean regarding eating at time, sleeping on time, not to spend time with gadgets or even one- sided advising. By communication I mean actually seeing things from their perspective, trying to understand their understanding of things and the world. Come down to the level of the children. Talk to them. Keep your phones in another room and just spend time talking to them. The aggression comes from inability to express the tumultuous emotions. If those are given a vent, there is all possibility of riding out this pandemic somewhat uneventfully.

As far as addictions are concerned, they come in all shapes and forms, ranging from illicit substances, to the internet to gaming. As far as internet and gaming addictions are concerned, I believe they can be controlled to some extent. All addictions have an underlying theme- thrill seeking. Once things resume back to normal, children will go to school. A 6 hour break from the screen is a good starting point. At home, a parent needs to control the screen usage and channelize their energies towards other areas like sports and art.

The use of illicit substances by youngsters is a complex issue and a multi-faceted problem. There is no straight and simple way to tackle, or even to talk about the issue. But, I know from experience, a lack of communication between family and the children is a major contributory factor to this issue as well.

GK: What can help in raising children who are happy and have a sound mental health and behaviour?

AH: As one is available for other areas of life, one needs to be available to the children. A lot of parents would say that they are but availability in what form? Are you just scolding your children and advising them on what is right and what is not? Are you just going about your day in a separate direction while the children are supposed to figure out their complex ever changing internal world by themselves? Do you believe that providing food and advice is all that children need?

If the answer is yes, then one needs to revisit the concept of being a parent. If the answer is no, then this is your best opportunity to create growth for your children and yourself. Happy parents raise happy children. Happiness is not a goal, it is a process. Positivity is infectious. If you are positive in your understanding and outlook of this current situation, this will translate to your children. One needs to be mentally sound and strong , during the current times and for your children. This is a responsibility towards them and most importantly towards yourself.

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