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Dubai: As the UAE government eases restrictions, employees in both private and public sectors are heading back to work to make up 50 to 100 per cent of on-site workforce. What doesn’t change for now, however, is that schools remain shut with children engaging in online learning via virtual classrooms. Even while going out, residents have been advised to take precautions when it comes to younger kids and the elderly family members.

This means that children inevitably have to cope with new situations of where the parents have to head to work while they stay home alone. While most children may have gotten used to this new normal, with each change the situations can be scary and intimidating for children.

Age matters

Dr Laila Mahmoud

The way children process the change and come to terms with it can differ based on age. “Not all children and teens will respond to stress in the same way, there are some common changes to watch for at all times… ”, said Dr. Laila Mahmoud, Specialist Psychiatrist at Medcare Hospital Sharjah.

She listed the possible changes parents should be watching out for, especially in younger children:

- Excessive crying or frustration in younger children

- Returning to behaviours they have outgrown (for example, toileting accidents or bed-wetting)

- Excessive concern or unhappiness

- Unhealthy eating or sleeping habits

- Temper tantrums and episodes of anger and/or aggression

Dr Mohamed Yousaf

When it comes to teens, the frustration of adjusting is reflected in very different ways. Dr. Mohamed Yousaf, Specialist Psychiatrist, Aster Clinic, Al Muteena said, “Teenagers are so much [more] used to going out with their friends, spending their time outside the house at gyms, beaches , movies etc. unlike the younger kids.

“Their whole world is turned upside down.”

How to explain it all

Always communicate about the pandemic to your kids, experts recommend unanimously. How you explain it would also depend on the age of the child. If you don’t communicate well and panic about the situation, children, like sponges, tend to grasp at that and internalise your feelings.

Dr Yousaf commented, “Treat them [children] as adults and explain to them the situation of the pandemic. Have a conversation with them to know their own understanding of the same. Update them on the recoveries and the positive sides [of the pandemic].”

Dr Mahmoud added, “Share old experiences of pandemic and how people by unity and follow the instructions and safety measures, they overcome it.”

Based on expert opinions, this is how to tackle informing children about the pandemic:

1. Choose a time you know they are open to talk about the pandemic

2. Ask them first: What do they know of this pandemic or what they think it is

3. Do your research so you can give them simple and precise information

4. Always end on a positive note and include them in precautionary measures

It is also important that parents stay calm in front of the children and limit too much news of the pandemic which could scare and confuse children.

What when parents go back to work

A fixed routine or schedule for the entire family is recommended by experts so children can cope effectively. Dr Mahmoud said, “Make a healthy life style a routine life for them, a habit for them, not occasional or temporary, kids need to follow with them till make the routine [and] healthy life style a habit.”

She noted that most parents only advise but don’t follow the advice themselves. She said that parents should also follow the schedule to normalise it as children tend to copy rather than take advice.

“Share, do and act before asking them to do,” Dr Mahmoud added.

Tackling boredom

“‘I am bored’ - it’s one of the most heard words during this time. Prepare for this situation by brainstorming a list of boredom buster activities that kids can choose from,” Dr Yousaf said.

He added that making a house chore list that is fun for kids could be a possible solution for some days along with educational entertainment kits, DIY projects etc.

Screen time will also need to be limited as much as possible as children will already be using screens for learning and limited entertainment activities. Dr Yousaf suggested that parents should start a rewarding chart for all things that don’t include screen time.

Quality time with children

While the pandemic has forced families inside, this has given everyone a chance to get more time with their children. Dr Yousaf said, “Read them stories, draw together, switch roles and play, have a bedtime chat, clean up together, play their favourite activities together and show them you enjoy it as much as them.

“Have personal time with each of your kids and talk with them and build a friendly relationship with them so it’s easy for them to share their feelings with you.

“Face time your friends and family and show them the importance of having your loved ones close however far you are.”

Dr Mahmoud also stressed on the importance of spending quality time with children. He said, “Family time is very important for the kid’s mental health, they make them feel safe, supported, increase their cognitive abilities, feels loved and worthy increase their self-confidence, make their personality grows in an integrated weight, make them leaders for the future.”