In response to the COVID-19 epidemic, most governments in the affected countries have ordered school closings as an emergency measure to prevent the spread of the infection. As a result, considerable efforts have been made by schools and teachers to implement different home education plans (online courses, TV and web broadcasts). However, while these necessary efforts and measures reassure many parents, there is reason to be concerned that prolonged school closings and home confinement could have negative effects on the physical and mental health of children.
What is the impact of confinement on children?
Studies suggest that when children are at home (weekends and summer vacations, for example), they are less physically active, increase screen time, have irregular sleep patterns (duration, bed, wake up) and poorly balanced diets, resulting in weight gain and reduced cardiorespiratory capacity. These negative health effects are likely to be worse when children are confined to their homes, with no outdoor activity, and no interaction with their friends and classmates.
Beyond the physical consequences of home confinement on children and adolescents, the psychological impact is undoubtedly a bigger problem, and yet neglected. Stressors such as prolonged confinement, fear of infection, frustration and boredom, fake news, lack of contact with classmates, friends and teachers, lack of privacy family and financial problems can have even more problematic and long-lasting effects on children and adolescents.
The crucial role of parents
In the context of home confinement, parents are the best and closest support for children. Close and open communication with them is one of the keys to preventing psychological problems, but above all to comforting them in a context of prolonged isolation. Indeed, children are constantly exposed to news related to the epidemic. It is therefore crucial to communicate directly with them on these subjects, in order to alleviate their anxiety.
On the other hand, home confinement offers an opportunity to improve interaction between parents and children, by involving the latter in family activities and improving their autonomy capacities for the youngest. With the right parenting approaches, confinement could be beneficial, strengthening family ties and taking the time to respond to children's psychological needs.
How to reduce the negative effects of home confinement on your children
Here are some tips to protect your children's physical and mental health during this difficult time:
Keep regular hours of sleep for your children. Choose the best time to sleep and try to keep this routine throughout confinement. Do not hesitate to reassure your children that this routine helps them sleep well and manage their emotions.
Make the last 30 minutes before bed a regular routine that includes soothing activities. Choose activities that you and your children enjoy: what a child enjoys most is being with a happy parent! Try to keep the order and duration of these activities each evening.
It is inevitable that children will use more computers, smartphones, video games or TVs during the confinement period. However, avoid exposure to screens and electronic devices after dinner or too close to bedtime. Also, avoid letting your children use smartphones and tablets, or just watch TV, in bed.
If you have enough living space, avoid children using their bed for activities other than sleep (eating, playing, doing homework, for example). Make a clear distinction between using the bed during the day and at night (for example in changing blanket and pillows).
If you can go out, it is best to go out in the morning and have breakfast in a very bright place, if possible in your garden or on your balcony.
During home confinement, it is essential that your child can be physically active. If you can't get out, there are a lot of creative exercise programs available on internet or TV. Do not hesitate to rely on these programs to allow your children to burn a minimum of calories.
Keep your child's bedroom comfortable: a temperature around 19°C and low light at night.
It is important not to sleep in the same bed as your child. Instead, prefer to reassure him repeatedly in the case of anxious awakenings during the night.
By Chris Hayot, PhD in Biomedical Engineering
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