Covid-19 is the disease that turned 2020 upside down. This disease does not discriminate but
surprisingly kids have shown physical immunity (for the most part). When they do contract the disease,
most children show mild to no symptoms at all. However, this does not mean kids are free from the
consequences and effects of a pandemic and lockdown. In my practice I have certainly seen an increase
in emotional and behavioral issues in kids and also old issues being triggered and resurfacing. Covid-19
and everything that came with it, has had and will continue to have an effect on kids' mental health.
Different age groups will have a different understanding of Covid-19 and all it entails. Toddlers and
younger kids (0 – 3 years), might not have the understanding to fully grasp what is happing and might
even find some parts of it to be positive for them (mom and dad being at home, no day-care). Kids
between the ages of 3- 6 years might start to grasp the basic concepts of a virus, staying safe, sickness,
health etc. This means they have a basic understanding of what is happening but still lack the cognitive
and emotional abilities to fully process all facets of the concepts. Older, school aged children and teens,
can fully understand these concepts and might be able to process some of the concepts and
consequences, but likely not all, as they are more prone to informal reasoning and fallacies (hence
For little ones it might have seemed that Covid-19 had little effect or that they might not have noticed at
first or even a more positive experience with being with caregivers all day. However, this age group is
not immune to the negative mental health effects at all. At this age, because these little brains are
super absorbent and on turbo charged learning, this group is very sensitive to caregivers' behaviors
and emotions around them. Because young kids are almost a blank canvas their brains are highly
sensitive to mirroring those around them (so they can learn of course!). Therefore these little ones might
be directly picking up and mirroring the stress and tension (caused by Covid-19 and the lockdown) from
people around them. To make matters worse they do not possess the insight or abilities to process and
deal with these emotions and therefore it might manifest through their behaviors. Behaviors such as
increased tantrums, regression in certain developmental areas (bed wetting, acting more babyish),
acting out behavior (biting, hitting etc.) and becoming more unsure, whiney and clingy (sudden
separation anxiety) could all be mental health effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
School aged children have more insight and understanding. As Covid-19 is extensively covered in the
media, kids and teens can easily access information, this could help their understanding and ability to
process but can also lead to fear. Fear about the virus itself (contracting it or a loved one contacting it
and passing away), and also fear regarding the consequences of the virus such as lockdown (falling
behind on schoolwork, missing out on events, fear that caregivers might lose their jobs etc.). Aside from
fear, kids' and teens' lives and daily routines have been directly and immensely effected. Kids suddenly
had to stay home, social interactions were stopped, some kids had to start online schooling, while
others fell behind, sports and recreational activities ceased, and parents and caregivers where suddenly
more stressed out with added pressures (job loss, financial insecurity, smoking ban etc.). Kids thrive on security and stability (even teenagers!) and for them this pandemic scattered their secure and stable
worlds. School aged kids might have the ability to express their emotions and thoughts more easily and
therefore can work through big emotions and fears with caregivers.
Immense disruption, fear and uncertainty surrounding Covid-19 and the lockdowns, is tough for adults to fully process and therefore can't be expected from kids. For teenagers, they possess the ability to understand and process what the pandemic entails, this however, does not exempt them from fear or the negative effects. Both kids' and teens' worries and concerns, big and small, forms part of their experience and their reality. Not
participating in an event they looked forward to, might seem trivial to adults but could be devastating to
kids (this is their reality and therefore it matters.).
As Covid-19 is a new disease not much insight and research is available on the mental effect on kids. In one study out of China, published in JAMA Pediatrics, researchers in Hubei province, where the pandemic originated, examined a sample group of 2,330 schoolchildren for signs of emotional distress. The kids had been locked down for an average of 33.7 days. Even after that single month, 22.6% of them reported depressive symptoms and 18.9% were
experiencing anxiety. This is a concerning reality, the effects of Covid-19 on kids mental health may
manifest as increased anxiousness, disturbances in sleep or eating patterns, increased sadness and
frustration, acting out behaviors, seeming more fearful or angry or even resentment towards
High risk groups:
It is important to mention that some children have severe negative effects due to Covid-19 and
lockdown. Children receiving food from school feeding schemes, now don't receive any proper food.
Abused children might now be stuck at home with an abusive caregiver. Job loss and therefore loss of
income means some families are pushed into poverty and loss of loved ones due to Covid-19. In these
situations, the effects are extremely traumatic and therefore where possible, adults should reach out,
protect and care for these children.
Protecting our kids' mental health:
This in an entirely new situation for most people, we have never been in a pandemic or lockdown and
therefore we are all uncertain of how to navigate this whole situation. First and foremost, we need to be
kind, kind to ourselves, kind to our kids and kind to others. Everyone’s experience and reality of this
might be different, therefore step out of your way to be kind. Other practical steps we could put in place
for ourselves and our kids are as follow:
MAINTAIN A HEALTHY LIFESTYLE:
Maintain a healthy lifestyle as best as you can with proper diet, adequate sleep and exercise. Encourage
social interaction with loved ones at home or online. Make extra time to truly connect. Get up and do
small tasks to help you and your kids keep moving.
ARM YOURSELF AND YOUR KIDS WITH THE CORRECT KNOWLEDGE:
Only rely on credible sources to help you calculate any risks or precautions. Share only with your kids
what they are able to understand and at an age appropriate level. Separate emotions from the facts.
Focus on what you and they have control over.
AVOID BAD MEDIA:
If you find certain articles etc. upsetting, avoid exposure to unnecessary anxiety provoking coverage and
stick to the facts. Monitor what your kids are exposed to and regularly check in on their understanding.
Be kind to yourself and your kids, engage in various selfcare practices and allow them to do the same.
Frequently check in on how they are doing and their experience on all of this. These are extraordinary
times and we must not put unrealistic expectations on ourselves or others, this just leads to unnecessary
Reach out to friends and family. Even though we have to maintain physical distance, encourage contact
and connection. Connection is an important buffer against isolation.
SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP
When things seem overwhelming, reach out for help.
COVID-19 Public Hotline: 0800 029 999
WhatsApp Support Line: 0600-123456
Childline Toll-Free Crisis Line: 080 005 5555