• KOCHI:  In any situation that causes fears, anxieties and panic, the best thing we can do for our kids is to help them understand facts, manage the barrage of information and withstand the urge to panic. No matter how old our kids may 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, 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? Are we harbouring 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. Try to listen without interruptions or arguments and be honest about limitations to your knowledge.

    Once 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 . Reiterate public health directives when necessary. 
     The author is a UK board-certified senior consultant child  and adolescent psychiatrist

    What you can do

    Bake or cook with your child, listen to music, create fun art and laugh together. Play board games or enjoy a sport together. After all, as a family, you are all in the same boat.  Children with pre-existing mental health difficulties including anxiety, depression, adjustment issues or OCD may find 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. Try to keep the environment normal, and be there for your child as much as you can. 

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