Loneliness and disease containment measures have increased the risk of depression and anxiety (1). Since COVID-19, around 2 out of 19 children and teens are reported to have anxiety (2). Anxiety in children can usually be managed with the support from parents and family members, however, severe anxiety as well as suicidal behaviours can also arise especially during these hard times. These conditions may arise due to pre-existing mental health issues, traumatic experiences, abuse, instability in the family or even the suffering from the loss of a loved one (3). Children going back to school now are going to face the unusual challenge of being separated from their families, which will trigger their ‘separation anxiety’ as they find it more safe and comfortable to stay home (4).
You should always be aware of your child’s behaviour and contact a professional if any of the symptoms listed persists for more than 14 days (3).
Wetting the bed
Clinging to their parents
Have trouble falling asleep
Loss of appetite
Scared of the dark
Clinging to their parents
Have frequent nightmares
Lacking in concentration
Does not want to attend school
Social withdrawal (Not partaking in activities or making friends)
Unable to concentrate
Whether or not your child possesses social skills, always practice having open conversations to frequently check in with them. Even a simple “How are you doing?” would be enough to give your child the idea of openly talking to you. You have to always express your feelings as well in order to start an open communication as it is a two-way street. Even if you both share different views, especially on the topic of going back to school, make them feel like you are trying your level best to ensure their safety and to make them feel comfortable. Confidence is key here! The most important thing when it comes to open communication is to listen. Listen to what your child has to say in return as your child has always had to listen to you as well! (4). Remember to reassure your child more, since your child might be facing uncertainty and anxiety when going back to school.
If your child is clingy, you might face a bit of a challenge for them to go back to school as they are scared to be separated from you. However, it is always important to remember that as a parent, you have to stay calm and positive despite what you are feeling. You should always give your child the space to express their negative feelings in order to feel validated. If your child is telling you that they miss you and they are struggling due to their separation anxiety, be sure to always respond positively and express how proud you are of them and that you miss them too!
Normally, children just need some time and support to adapt to their separation from parents. However, it is extremely important to seek help if your child is still facing difficulties after 3-4 weeks. One of the common treatments for separation anxiety is to see a therapist where they will work closely with the parents and sometimes teachers as well. This is to ensure that everyone that your child is in contact with are on the same page. For some children, it may be easier for them to stay at home than being physically present at school. This is due to many factors such as social anxiety, bullies, and learning disorders.
Many studies have shown that anxiety increases the risk of viral infection during the pandemic. For example, for someone tested positive for COVID-19, their anxious feelings about the virus will definitely worsen their health. This is because anxiety triggers an immune response that can speed up infections in a person's body (7). However, simple things such as exercise can help reduce depression and anxiety which will in turn boost your child’s immunity (8).