The ongoing pandemic can be difficult to navigate, especially for children who depend on their parents and guardians for support and advice in a situation where no-one has the ‘right’ answers. We are in conversation with Dr. Meghna Singhal, clinical psychologist, parenting educator and mother of TLFCB pre-primary ballet student Misha. In this interview, she breaks down the effects of the ongoing pandemic on children and teenagers, the importance of a strong support system, and the do’s and don’ts of online learning.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.
Hi! Thanks for having me here. I’m Dr. Meghna and I’m a clinical psychologist and parenting educator at ParentCircle. I completed my doctoral studies in clinical psychology from NIMHANS (Bangalore) and post-doctoral research in parenting from the University of Queensland (Australia).
How would you describe the general effect of the current pandemic on children and teenagers?
The pandemic has left everyone feeling overwhelmed, and children and teens are no different. But children often cannot express themselves the way we adults can. Their sense of unease can reflect in their refusal to accept things that would have been otherwise easy to take. Acting out, meltdowns, non-compliance, and other challenging behaviours are all expressions of an emotional state that is too overwhelming for the child to handle.
Adolescents, on the other hand, are more affected by the lack of social interactions during the pandemic. They may struggle to adjust to the new normal and may find it hard to maintain a healthy emotional equilibrium.
Are there any particular factors that can help children and teenagers cope with online learning?
Definitely. Support from parents is the biggest factor in helping children and adolescents cope with online learning. This includes creating an effective home learning environment, encouraging interaction with teachers and peers, encouraging taking notes and listing the doubts, respecting your child’s privacy, and above all, staying calm. Online learning is a new mode of learning for all the stakeholders and the more calm and cooperative parents are, the better it is for everyone involved.
What should parents be aware of with regard to ballet classes when they are conducted online and the students are at home?
Parents should be aware that their support goes a long way in ensuring that the ballet classes run without hindrances and hiccups. This entails 3 Ps:
- Planning: This includes getting a good WiFi connection, ensuring your device is up to date, getting your child ready in advance, and being ready with the Zoom link,
- Participation: This includes actively participating in all forums (e.g., the WhatsApp group) and voicing concerns and feedback,
- Performance: This includes not interrupting the class while the child is performing, ensuring that the child’s full frame is visible to the teacher, and teaching your child digital etiquette.
What role does physical activity play in keeping children and teenagers mentally and emotionally healthy in general? And at a time like this current pandemic?
In general, physical activity promotes good physical, mental, and emotional outcomes.
Physical outcomes: physical activity promotes cardiorespiratory fitness (which is important to develop to prevent a virus like COVID-19) and building muscle and bone health, among others,
Emotional outcomes: physical activity promotes better emotional regulation, enhances mood and overall emotional well-being,
Mental outcomes: physical activity promotes better sleep, better concentration, prevents depression and anxiety, and reduces stress.
It is even more important for children and teens to participate in physical activity because these physical, mental, and emotional outcomes become even more important to achieve given their enhanced vulnerability during the pandemic.
What role do the arts play in keeping children and teenagers mentally and emotionally healthy in general? And at a time like this?
Art has always been known to have healing powers. Expressing oneself through art, music, dance, or drama has been scientifically demonstrated to relieve stress and promote well-being in children and adults alike. It can even protect against a range of mental health conditions, help manage mental ill health, and support recovery.
Are there any positive effects or results that can be gained from online learning?
Online learning is here to stay, whether we like it or not. The biggest question is how we can maximise benefit from online learning, while minimising harm or risk. There are definitely positive effects of online learning- such as getting children more familiar with technology and building their digital skills; share information that could not previously be shared or communicated; learning digital etiquette and being able to communicate and share ideas with peers and mentors the world over!
How can parents encourage their children if they are demotivated to join in online classes?
Parents have a big role to play in motivating their children to join/continue online classes. Look for ways in which you can make learning fun for your child. Learning isn’t confined to books and classes. Look for learning opportunities in everyday situations with your child- time spent cooking in the kitchen can become a lesson in science and math; a day spent in the garden can become a lesson in biology; even playing with building blocks can help your child imbibe concepts of physics! So, a sure shot way to motivate children to attend online classes is to relate what they’re learning online to something they’re interested in outside school. Involve your child in doing a hands-on activity related to the concept they’re learning at school; when learning comes alive instead of it being confined to books, is when children start making sense of it and relating to it.
Of course helping your child connect with their peers outside of online classes is also likely to enhance their motivation for online learning with the same peers.
Are there any signs that parents should look out for if they are concerned about their children’s mental and emotional health in general? And at this time?
Children regressing on their developmental milestones is common right now (such as a 4 year old who is potty trained may regress and start soiling her clothes) and that is normal in this period of stress. What parents need to do in general is find ways of spending time connecting with their children.
But there could be some red flags in behaviours of children or adolescents, which may require serious attention:
- Unusual fears or worries
- Difficulties in concentration
- Withdrawal from friends or activities they used to enjoy
- Drastic changes in sleep or appetite
If you find any patterns of the above behaviours, it is advisable to seek professional help from a qualified clinical psychologist.
Are there any other areas that you would like to highlight with regard to children’s health in our current situation?
Let your child play and enjoy their childhood- is what I’d like to request all parents! Don’t worry about a dropped school year. Don’t worry if they don’t engage with online learning. Instead, spend this time bonding and connecting with your children. This time will never come back!
If you have any questions or concerns regarding your child’s health,
you can get in touch with Dr. Singhal on email@example.com
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