Helping children cope with stress when experiencing online learning during this pandemic

Muhammad Afif Ilham & Mohamad Nashrul Izzat

Today we are living in a pandemic that we never expected. We never really know when this COVID-19 pandemic will end and all of us can live like usual. Every level of age is facing challenges that are very stressful and overwhelming, including kids that currently in (virtual) schools. Disengagement from the school environment, as our government had enforced certain laws that restricted movement and social interactions on Malaysian citizens really brings up challenges to the kids to adapt to new environment of gaining knowledge. As a result, they might not obtain the same input compared to when they learn directly inside the school, which might strain up their emotions as they cannot express themselves as usual. Plus, these public health actions, such as social distancing can make the students feel very lonely and isolated with their friends, which can boost up the level of stress. Parents must know how to overcome this problem, as it is the duty of every parent in the world to ensure that their children receive enough support – in this case, emotionally. First, understanding experience of stress need to be highlighted. 

Stress can cause kids to be afraid, sorrow, numb, anger and deep level of frustration. Besides, they might have issue on having normal sleep duration and time. Parents also need to check their kids, if they have changes in their appetite, energy, interests, and desires, they might experience stress. On top of that, keep in mind that all physical reactions like body pains, rashes and headaches might be the cause of stress. On worse conditions, children may have chronic health problems such as obesity and eating disorders and mental health conditions, for example, chronic stress and depression. Some kids might attempt to use dangerous substances, such as alcohol and tobacco to make them feel calm. 

To overcome these problems, one of the main things can be done is by supporting the kids’ self-regulation. Basically, self-regulation is how the kids manage the everyday stressors in their life, including emotions. As a parent, being the strong support factor for the kids to self-regulate is very important, as at this level, children do not have many choices to communicate and channel their emotions, besides interacting with their parents at home. Even in the life before pandemic, parents need to be the number one support for kids to learn on how to self-regulate their emotion. If they do not start any communication with you, you need to be the first one to approach them. Do not be late in your response, since as the time increases, the children will be more stressed if they cannot channel their emotions. 

Next, help them with their schoolwork. You must believe that they really love it if you help them to calculate Mathematics, teach them how to brainstorm an essay, explain the result of their Science experiment or fix the grammatical error in their writings. From this method, you might help to lessen their burden. If you do this, great job! 

Avoid them from hearing tons of news from the news stories. Try to ensure that the kids are not overexposed with the news, which might make them upset. It is nice to be informed but limiting news and disconnecting them from the screens for a while will not be harmful.

Also, try to take care of their body. Ask them to take deep breath when they feel lots of burden on them.  Try to spend time with them to have exercise together, maybe at least 2 times per week, depending on the family. Encourage them to eat healthy food and get plenty of sleep. And at the same time, do not allow them to even try to use tobacco or alcohol to reduce their stress. 

Lastly, do not forget to make time to unwind with them. Create some activities, such as play video games together, do some storytelling at night, play board games, have a cooking session, or watch new movies with them. From these activities, they might release their pressure from the school life, as you encourage them to feel joy. Plus, family activities might help you to strengthen your bond with them, so they will have strong trust on you as their main emotional support.

Be bold, be their strongest support!

(the authors are undergraduate students in the Department of Psychology, IIUM; this piece is written as part of the Child and Adolescent Psychology class)

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