Many folks didn’t think that we would be in social isolation for this long. That the holiday season would roll in, and we would still be isolated at home, without our loved ones united, with schools closed and our little ones still having virtual instruction. I believe I can say with conviction that the greatest harm of this pandemic was on our mental health and, if we, adults are shaken by so much change, even though we can understand and rationalize what has been happening, and yet, we find it very difficult to maintain balance in these moments. Imagine our little ones?
Several studies carried out by renowned institutions have shown that our children have suffered a lot from this social isolation, due to the change in routine and the lack of contact with people, which is very important to develop sociability. We often think that these changes do not affect children, especially small children because they do not understand the seriousness of the situation. This is, unfortunately, an erroneous thought.
In early childhood, our neural connections are very fast-paced and highly influenced by the environment in which we live and our personal interactions. We also know that changes in the environment and these relationships add more stress to emotional wellbeing. When the child lives in an environment with few stimuli, they can become stressed. Therefore, when having stressed caregivers, the effect adds up, it cascades, and, in the future, this can result in very toxic consequences. In most cases, we are unable to accurately identify what is going on with our children, due to the difficulty of children to understand their own emotions and know how to express what they feel. However, these emotions can be internalized and externalized in several ways; we need to be aware that early childhood is the period when there is more brain development and is when the mind is most affected by what happens around them.
Children learn by imitation and it is important that we are aware of it, and our role when dealing with adversity in these difficult times. In studies that have been developed on the subject, they warn us that we must take care of our mental health as a priority during and after the pandemic, especially for our children and adolescents. We may think that we have not suffered changes, or that it hasn’t affected us, even thinking that we have not been shaken by anything. However, although this could seem true for now, it is very possible to see the effects and the results of this difficult phase much later.
It is important to pay attention to your child’s behavior changes – have they shown any behavior that can be worrying? Do they complain of any pain or discomfort or fear without any apparent justification? We tend to think that children’s behavioral changes may be due to age, dislikes, or opposition to a task, or a way to get attention. However, in the present moment in which we live, it is possible to be something else.
Stay tuned and attuned
Most young children don’t yet know how to express what they are feeling and some behaviors or changes in the body can be due to the stress of isolation that this pandemic has caused us. Some examples I can think of include new, excessive crying, clinginess, stress for trivial reasons, anxiety, insomnia, lack of appetite, tiredness, regression (such as needing to use diapers again or ask for a bottle or pacifier after being off those for a while), developing some mania such as biting things or even physical symptoms such as headache or body pain, excessive sleepiness, allergies, and fever among others.
All of these changes are important signs that we should pay attention to because it suggests that something may be wrong. Generally, we only identify that something is not right with the children, when they suffer from somatization, since they probably do not know how to deal with their emotions yet. The body ends up being affected and overloaded, which is a way for it to signal the emotional needs attention.
That is why it is always important to be open to listening to your child, to create space for the child to share, in their own way, what affects them; take what they say or feel seriously, even if you still don’t know how to explain it yourself. Identifying the signs is essential to find out what the real cause of the problem is, how to solve it and how to seek help from a professional if deemed necessary.
There is always a solution
The best way to mitigate some of these consequences of these challenging times is to take care of yourself, make sure that the whole family is well – physically and mentally. It is possible to improve everyone’s wellbeing in several ways: spend time with individual attention with your little one every day, even if it is just an hour. Always have a watchful eye when you are going through a difficult day, so you can quickly identify any changes, avoiding reaching the point of somatization. Teaching your child to recognize and know how to explain or express what they feel is important and for it to happens, you need to have established a habit of open dialogue and constant conversation. In addition, the best and most effective medicine that makes us feel good: play! Through play, children unconsciously express what is going on inside them. So, pay attention and prioritize play time with your children.