Neuroscience experts suggest that it is essential for the scientific community and health professionals, but also for those who work in schools and families, to evaluate and analyze the psychological impact caused by the coronavirus pandemic on children check it out and adolescents. In fact, various mental disorders can begin to manifest themselves in these stages of growth.
Schools, parents and health care institutions should implement first aid guidelines to assist children in their emotional and psychological difficulties.
Forcibly living in spaces that become cramped due to the absolute constraint and also imposed by the organization of the “new school”, creates discomfort for everyone.
In addition, going to school without getting ready to leave home
Without a backpack and friends to meet, without the anxiety of being late or without excuses not to go, deprives children of a fundamental experience, namely information sensory and emotional development resulting from the routine of lessons, hardships and joys of school, and which promotes the child’s social and emotional development.
This is a situation which, in Italy alone, affects a pool of 8 million students. On a global scale, a mapping carried out by UNESCO has revealed that over 580 million students are personally affected by the closure of schools, after the peaks of almost 1 billion reached in the first wave of the pandemic.
Emotional impact of Covid, lockdowns and distance learning: what do neurosciences say? The pandemic impacts on children’s health through different factors: Social distancing clinical criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder; even if it is early to obtain definitive opinions.
Seeing or being aware of critically ill family members affected by the coronavirus, witnessing the death of loved ones, or even thinking about your own death from the virus can cause anxiety, panic attacks, depression, and other mental illnesses in children and adolescents. To all this it must be added that many of them are also experiencing parental separations or difficult family situations.
School routine is an important mechanism that allows young people to organize themselves. Even children younger than 2 notice the absence of regular caregivers (for example, grandparents) and may become restless and destabilized, waiting for their “order” to be restored. With schools closed, young people lose a point of reference and their sense of identity could falter. Going to school could have been a pain before the pandemic, but at least it represented a routine to respect. Furthermore, the precariousness and uncertainty of the measures taken requires great adaptability.
Anxiety and uncertainty related to illness and parental fear
Even if adults almost never address children directly when they talk about the virus and the ongoing pandemic, in the belief that they are protecting them by keeping them away from these conversations, the little ones still feel what they are trying to hide.
This behavior on the part of adults ends up being harmful to children, just think that young people with inadequate information on why quarantine measures have been taken were more anxious.
- Adult concern about the implications of COVID-19 may impair their ability to recognize and respond delicately to the stimuli or discomfort of children.
- Children are well tuned to the emotional states of adults, and exposure to inexplicable and unpredictable behavior is perceived as a threat, resulting in a state of anxiety.
Younger children, between the ages of 3 and 6, exposed to high levels of stress and isolation are more at risk of permanent atypical development, as their brains are still developing.
In general, excessive attachment, inattention and irritability have always been considered psychological conditions worthy of attention, in all age groups. The discomfort of children and adolescents can also take the form of externalizing behaviors, such as aggression and quarrelsomeness, which replace more common and predictable reactions such as crying, sadness or worry.
A winning synergy to train in resilience: school is not just teaching, just as healthcare is not just healing. Both must promote health with actions to support the development of the emotional system: just as gymnastics are done at school to enhance psychomotor skills and aerobic capacity, so one could also teach how to enhance stress management skills and the normalization of negative emotions, thanks to the help of experts to support innovative educational plans.
Knowledge reduces anxiety and increases re silience
Children need honest information about changes in their family. When this information is absent, children try to make sense of the situation on their own. It is essential to expose children to little but correct information about COVID-19 through different sources, such as the evening news, by talking to them about the news and possibly filtering them.
Adults are the first to worry about how children are feeling, but sometimes they are the first not to lead by example by sharing some of their feelings and talking about emotions. Because of this, conversations may end up dominated only by the practical aspects of the disease.
Listening to children and promoting emotional meta-communication: let’s talk about how we feel! Research has shown that parents sometimes use technical or factual language to try to minimize their children’s distress.
- The absence of emotion-focused conversations can leave children anxious about the emotional state of the adults around them.
- This anxiety can inadvertently cause children to avoid sharing their concerns in an effort to protect others, leaving them alone to deal with these difficult feelings.
Communicating with children about how they are feeling and how they are processing the information they receive (metacommunication) will provide them with the emotional tools they need to better face this period.
Hearing what children believe about COVID-19 transmission is essential, and providing them with an accurate and meaningful explanation will ensure they don’t feel unnecessarily scared or guilty. This can also be important to support young people who are facing bereavement, issues related to parental work problems or family economic problems.
Protection but also self-regulation with exercise: in the face of difficult situations, emotions can lose control and lead to exaggerated reactions, with tantrums or meltdowns. This is extremely common in times of homework and in general in this difficult moment we are experiencing. Physical activity, even for just a few minutes, changes neurotransmitters in the brain and can have a huge impact on the ability to regulate emotion.
Our mind, brain and body are all interconnected.
When your child is under pressure, their brain produces high levels of the stress hormone cortisol. It also produces adrenaline.
An increase in cortisone can increase anxiety and dysregulation. When this happens, functional and social communication skills decrease – because the brain cannot access the prefrontal cortex, which controls executive functioning.
This triggers a fight or flight response thus bringing about a huge adrenaline rush.
Numerous studies have shown that exercise reduces cortisol and adrenaline levels, while increasing dopamine and other endorphins; in other words, it helps improve emotional regulation.
In addition, the exercises prepare the brain to concentrate more and to learn. They can be done in the morning, before class, or in the afternoon before homework, or at times when the child needs to decompress.