[By: Penny Bounia-Mastrogianni]
For some of us MOTION early-stage researchers, the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic was accompanied by moving back to our home countries in a rush and under great uncertainty. I decided to return to Greece and to my family, where, by interacting with my very young sister and other families with children, I realized how many children and adolescents probably had a much harder time mentally coping with the situation than us adults. So I decided to write some thoughts on this challenging reality that many parents and caregivers faced and keep facing.
Many psychologists addressed the public with concern and advice about the ways that parents could take care of their children’s mental health while in quarantine. This advice revealed, among others, three important aspects of children’s life which keep them safe and happy. The first was the necessary structure that children need in their everyday life, which is usually provided by the many activities their days are full of – school, sports, arts or playing at the neighborhood with their friends. With all these activities being stopped, it was really difficult for children – especially the ones in primary school years – to fill their time, but, most importantly, feel safe, in control and it strongly undermined their sense of normality. Thus, there was a demand many parents had to meet, to find productive, or at least fun activities their children could do in a programmed way in order to create some routine. Which comes to the second main aspect, parent routines and working from home. This affected younger and older children differently, with young children not being able to understand why their parents cannot play with them although they are at home all day, while adolescents experienced a lack of personal space and often the need to isolate from a constant interaction with their parents. This last part is connected with a common need for all ages, the need for normal social life, seeing friends and relatives (for instance, young children missed their grandparents which they haven’t seen for months).
Although different children have different resilience abilities, what was more challenging for them in general, in my opinion, is that they were suddenly bombarded with changes and information they could not understand and process, if someone did not bother to do that for them. Adults could read articles, predictions, share their concerns with friends, whereas children often lack the words to express troublesome thoughts. This is probably the reason why many of them manifested these worries behaviorally and bodily, in their sleep schedule or eating habits, as it is shown in the only studies so far which looked into the effect of the COVID pandemic on children’s psychology , .The need for caregivers to be that person that listens and explains in an efficient way was much greater than usually. And the ability to understand and accept negative feelings proved to be one of the most important skill parents had to master throughout this period, and hopefully made relationships with their children closer and more compassionate. Teachers and people who work with children will be next in helping children return to their routine gently, and we should keep this in mind for the months to come.