(written by Dr. Pravin Vasanthan)
COVID-19 and the Movement Control Order have caused unprecedented disruption in the lives and routines of all Malaysians, including our children. Due to concerns about virus spread, we have been forced to endure school closures, movement restrictions and social distancing measures which few of us could have imagined, just a few months ago.
Adults and children alike are likely to feel stressed and overwhelmed by the effects of COVID-19 and the MCO. In addition, parental worries related to money, COVID-19 and work are likely to be sensed by our children, causing them to feel frightened and insecure.
So far, thankfully, children with COVID-19 have generally had mild symptoms. However, the emotional and psychological effects of the disease and social distancing measures can be very significant. Children may behave differently due to stress and worry. Young infants may become more distressed, cry more frequently and want to be held or cuddled more. Toddlers and preschoolers may return to behaviours they have outgrown. For instance, they may have bedwetting áccidents’, throw tantrums, have anxiety at being separated from parents or difficulty sleeping. Older children and teenagers too may be affected, and may seem to be more combative, get upset more easily and frequently, and engage in aggressive behaviour or substance abuse. It is important that parents and carers understand the root causes of this behaviour, and also how to help their children cope. Above all, we as parents need to ensure that our children are kept safe from all forms of physical abuse.
Helping Our Children Cope
What can we as parents do to help our children cope?
Firstly, we need to be good role models for our kids. How we talk and behave has a big influence on how they behave too! For instance, using positive language can be very helpful. Instead of saying ‘Stop shouting!’, try saying ‘Please speak more quietly’. Praising those around us, and thanking people who do nice things for us, can make a big difference. Work together with other adults in the household, and share the load. Looking after children and other family members can be stressful and tiring, but sharing the responsibility makes things a lot easier. Ask for help, when you feel stressed or tired, and lend a helping hand to your family members when they need some ‘time off!’ Listen to others (including children) with as much focus and attention as possible. Being an empathic, active listener lets people know that you value them and the opinions they are sharing.
We all know how difficult it can be to cope with a misbehaving child, especially within the constraints of the MCO. Whatever happens, it’s important that we control our own emotions, and don’t give way to anger. When feeling stressed or angry, give yourself a 10-second pause, and breathe in and out deeply 5 times. Then try to respond in a calm, rational way. By modelling good behaviour when you are angry, you will teach your child to do the same.
Having a planned, regular schedule can be very helpful for children. During times of stress, structure and consistency can help children to feel calm and reassured. Younger children especially feel more secure when they know what to expect. Drawing up a timetable can be useful, incorporating time for meals, naps, learning activities and play. The timetable can be flexible, and your child can help you in planning out the day’s activities together.
Allowing children to connect with friends and loved ones using social media, such as Zoom or Whatsapp video calls, can help them to feel supported and less isolated. This can reduce the stress from being separated from their friends and relatives. During the MCO period, we may consider relaxing the rules limiting screen time temporarily, to allow children to connect with each other and their family members. Once the MCO is lifted, screen time can be controlled more strictly.
Keeping Our Children Safe
As I write this article, there have been NO reported cases of children with COVID-19 disease requiring Paediatric ICU care in any Ministry of Health hospital. All reports indicate that COVID-positive children generally have mild disease, and many have no symptoms at all.
However, there are many other diseases which may harm children. We have seen an increase in dengue cases in some states in Malaysia, and we need to protect ourselves and our children from dengue, especially as the MCO restrictions are loosened. Tuberculosis still claims many Malaysian lives every year, including children. Some parents may delay bringing their sick children to hospital, due to fears of COVID or punishment for violating the MCO. Sometimes this delay could result in children being very sick on arrival in hospital, and some may die due to late presentation. Poverty and malnutrition could also contribute to illness among children and their families.
Aside from this, as the MCO is lifted we are likely to see an increase in road traffic accidents, especially if we don’t take the necessary precautions. As parents return to work and schools remain closed, lack of supervision could lead to an increase in accidental poisoning and household accidents such as burns, scalds, and falls.
We must all play our part in keeping our children safe and healthy. Please stay home and stay safe whenever possible. If you have no choice but to venture outside, please ensure that you use seatbelts, motorcycle helmets or carseats appropriately, and follow all the road safety regulations. We must look out for any symptoms of serious illness in our children, such as high fever, breathing difficulties, reduced feeding and lethargy. If you are worried, consult a doctor or take your child to seek medical attention as soon as possible. You know your child best!
Keep our homes and environment free of mosquito breeding areas and stay away from the mozzies! We also need to ensure that young children are supervised and kept safe. Parents may need to take turns looking after their children, or enlist the aid of extended family or professional childcare services, depending on their situation.
- If you, your child or anyone you know is a victim of physical or domestic abuse, please call Talian Kasih at 15999 for help.
- If your family needs help getting food or essential items, call The Social Welfare Department’s Operations Room at 03-83231996 or contact your nearest JKM online at http://www.jkm.gov.my.
- If your child or other family member is feeling very sick, call 999 for emergency medical assistance, or go to your nearest hospital or Klinik Kesihatan for help. Don’t delay seeking medical advice or treatment if you are worried about your child’s illness. It is always better to seek treatment early rather than too late!
- Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health UK. COVID-19: Resources for parents and carers. https://www.rcpch.ac.uk/resources/covid-19-resources-parents-carers
- UNICEF Coronavirus (COVID-19) Parenting Tips. https://www.unicef.org/coronavirus/covid-19-parenting-tips
Written by :
Dr. Pravin Vasanthan