A HEALTHY MIND SUPPORTS A HEALTHY BODY OPTIMALLY Talk to your kids about the COVID-­19 epidemic Perspectives from a senior Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist

  • In any situation that causes fears, anxieties and panic, the best thing we can do for our kids is helping them understand, manage the barrage of information and withstand the urge to panic. This is not an easy task when we are facing widespread chaos and the WHO ‘s recent declaration that COVID-­19 is officially a pandemic . It has already hit the world’s largest economy badly , many parts of Europe are heading towards lockdown and few places in India as well as Bengaluru.


    No matter how old our kids might be, our anxieties and fears rub off on them and can potentially create a difficult scenario, especially in the context of impending exams and exam stress.


    Before we talk to our kids about the virus spread ( which is of course crucial ), it is imperative that we introspect -­ We need to ask ourselves honestly about the state of mind we are in. Are we, as parents or employees or sons/daughters of aged parents fearful, anxious or frustrated . Are we worried about the financial impact of the pandemic on our lives or career? Maybe we harbour worries about our own physical well being and are unwilling to express/accept it.


    When we have a conversation with our children, we need to be fully present , emotionally neutral, well-­ informed and in a position to have an honest, fact-­based conversation. Make sure external factors don’t intrude-­ switch off all gadgets and the TV. Initiate an open conversation at the dinner table by interspersing queries/comments about what our children have heard about the virus.


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    What do they believe is true and what are they unable to comprehend? Do listen without interruptions or arguments and be honest about limitations to your knowledge.


    Once children ,especially younger children, are able to express themselves, we can help them understand routine procedures that can be the foundation for cleanliness and healthy habits in the longer-­term. Discuss how limits on travel / public gatherings are being balanced in the current scenario with career/work/personal requirements and expectations. Re-­iterate public health directives eg.,sneezing into your elbow. It helps to approach positive discussion by thinking about pro-­active steps we can all take (like healthy food, good sleeping habits and much more).


    It helps to assure ourselves and our children that there are many experts working 24/7 to control the virus. They need to feel that they can stay safe, as long as they take necessary precautions. A necessary reduction in a consumeristic lifestyle, alongside early, enforced school breaks can provide ample opportunities for family bonding and reinforce the message of safety to the child.


    I have always emphasised the power of creativity in daily life and it is such a valuable resource during these trying times. Bake or cook with your child, listen to music, create fun art and laugh together, the good ol’ fashioned way. Play board games or enjoy a sport together. After all, as a family, you are all in the same boat -­ paddling together in the same direction. A healthy mind supports a healthy body optimally . With this approach, children can be helped to overcome their fears and worries.


    Those with pre-­existing mental health difficulties that may include anxiety, depression, adjustment issues or recurrent hand-­washing may be finding the situation overwhelming. Please contact your Psychiatrist or mental health professional for support at the earliest.Try and maintain as normal a routine as possible.If the current situation has triggered new mental health difficulties that you or the child are struggling with, please do not delay or hesitate to see timely professional help.


    Last but not the least, reassure your kids that there are lots of highly trained experts working round the clock to contain the virus and that, eventually, it will be brought under control. We can collectively strengthen our emotional immune system that plays a vital role in all our lives.


    The author ( Dr .Ramya Mohan , FRCPsych ) is the Medical Director of iMANAS London . She is a UK board-­certified senior Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist / Medical Educator to the UK's National Health Service and the Indian healthcare system. She is a specialty champion for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry , Health Education England and an SDG Champion forerunner/action partner, United Nations.


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