Freedom, Sleep, and Useful Difficulties

Child psychologist Rosanna Kapanna-Hodge on how long-term isolation can affect children

The state of New York has made a final decision: the children will not return to school until the end of the school year. Similar measures are being taken in the rest of the states. For children, isolation turns into a six-month vacation, if you don’t take online education into account. Psychologists say that parental stress in this situation is almost inevitable, but the potential damage to the child’s psyche is not yet obvious. Child psychologist Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge answered questions from the Voice of America Russian Service Elena Meshcheryakova.
EAT.: How children feel during this period of universal distancing and isolation?
R.K-Kh .: Obviously, in different ways, it all depends on the well-being of the family in physical, psychological and material terms. But there are common features, and they are quite positive. First is freedom. There is a lot of freedom now. Children of all ages, even teenagers, enjoy it. Secondly, sleep. I think everyone likes to sleep a little longer, we in America are deprived of proper sleep. In many families, they simply do not get enough sleep, because they work a lot. And third, food! People started cooking at home for the first time in a long time! Americans enjoy healthy homemade food, and many of my family friends confess that they have never cooked so much in their lives. All of this reduces the overall level of stress children receive at school. In America, the average age at onset of anxiety disorder is six years. So these are definitely the advantages of today’s situation..

Freedom, Sleep, and Useful Difficulties

But on the other hand, I think that people all over the world lack a familiar routine of life. And children really miss school, or rather their friends. Many say they would rather go back to class, even if they don’t like school. They want to return to their daily routine – just get on the bus, walk down the school hallway, chat with friends – this is the norm that has been denied everyone. Add to that the usual boredom. Boredom in isolation is a real challenge for both children and parents. Loneliness is contraindicated for us, unless, of course, you are a clearly expressed introvert..
EAT.: Are you talking about people – both adults and children – they experience roughly the same emotions? What then is the difference?
R.K-Kh .: The line between children and adults is that adults are responsible for their families and therefore have a much greater burden on them. Many work, cook, clean and teach their children at the same time. And the main thing here is to introduce certain rules and frameworks for coexistence. Children really need a schedule, a structure, so as not to just go with the flow. This is especially true for young children. Elders, on the contrary, must be given independence. Outside the home, teenagers feel much more confident and freer than with their parents. They, unlike younger schoolchildren, experience disappointment and loneliness, it is more difficult to experience isolation from friends..
EAT.: Can prolonged isolation affect the social behavior of children in the future??
R.K-Kh .: Socially, kids will be fine in a short period of time. But we don’t yet know how long-term this isolation will be for them. It is clear that this year they will not go to school, summer camps and sports grounds are unlikely to open either. We do not even know if he will be able to return to school without masks and when, in principle, this will happen..
There are several points to consider. This is the social behavior of children in virtual media. They are great at adapting to new circumstances, unlike parents, and can maintain and develop relationships online. You can stay in touch without leaving your home. Kids who can easily master group chats in ZOOM will be fine. It will be more difficult for those who do not maintain such connections. But in general, children are stable and adaptive, they know how to switch.
The child’s task is to learn, which means constantly going beyond his own capabilities and putting himself in uncomfortable situations. This is the essence of learning. This year they are doing algebra, next year, geometry, and so on. So when it comes time to switch to school, most will be fine if we don’t consider clinical disorders, attention problems, and so on. But the children themselves will be different, a different generation is growing. We didn’t have their experience.

Freedom, Sleep, and Useful Difficulties

EAT.: How Parents Can Help Their Children Now?
R.K-Kh .: Parents should take control of themselves before trying to help their child. We cannot support them if we ourselves are under stress. It’s like an oxygen mask on an airplane – put on yourself first, then on your child.
The best thing you can do is communicate well with your child and establish a daily routine. Children really need predictability to reduce stress. So, if you decide that every day at 9:00 am – breakfast, and at 3:00 am we go for a walk with the dog, then nothing can prevent this. The structure of a regular school day works the same way. It helps to feel in control of the situation..

The second is communication. It is very important not just to endure quarantine, but to live with a family. Communication is incredibly important, but you need to set it up correctly: find a joint time for conversations, express your expectations for other family members. For example, you think your child should sit for four hours for lessons, but if you don’t say that, friction is inevitable. A great way to help a person who somehow depends on you is to articulate your requirements and wishes.
And the third. Give your kids a real gift – teach them breathing techniques, for example. Into the count of five-seven-eight. Think about the practical things – healthy eating, exercise, start journaling with your children, and meditate. These are general tips for managing stress. Most importantly, listen when your kids talk to you! Put your phone down and pay attention to their words and feelings..

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EAT.: Will a pandemic change parent-child relationships?
R.K-Kh .: In my opinion, many in this period will overestimate family relationships in principle. They will understand how important it is to have loved ones nearby. And this applies to both children and adults. True, for children, a way out of this situation will bring more benefit than harm. These are the difficulties they need to grow up..
American schoolchildren have zero stress tolerance. They don’t know how to deal with stress, which is why one in six people in the United States is taking psychotropic medications. As soon as someone becomes uncomfortable, they immediately go to the doctor and receive pills. This is how the system works in America. And this is awful. It is very unhealthy..
Therefore, it seems to me that now children, together with adults, finding themselves in a non-standard and often unpleasant situation, are learning to cope with it. Yes, it’s inconvenient, it’s painful, but you have to go through it. And I think it transforms a generation that got things so easy that it ended in boredom and frustration..
Parents, spending so much time with their children, may be able to notice and realize certain problems that their children face, not only during the quarantine period. Biofeedback is very important. We devote time to work, study and career and do not pay attention to the psychological state of children. As a psychologist, I expect an increase in requests for counseling after isolation. Because mental health will come to the fore very soon. Not everyone will get the virus, but everyone will experience stress in one way or another..

  • Elena Meshcheryakova

    TV journalist. She made her debut in the program «Before and after midnight» still a student at the Faculty of Journalism of Moscow State University.   She worked for ORT, TVC, TVS. 1998-2004 – news program presenter «24» on REN-TV. 2004-2008th – Correspondent of the TV channel RTVI in Israel. 2008-2017 – RTVI correspondent in the USA. From October 2017 – correspondent «Voices of America» in New York

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