The post-pandemic child 

Friday, 1 October, marked Children’s Day in Sri Lanka, an event that raises public awareness about child rights and protection. This week, Brunch decided to focus on the situation children have faced this past year.

The pandemic has coloured all our lives, especially those of our children. They have been isolated from their peers and confined to their homes and the extra-curricular and bonding activities that once formed the cornerstone of their lives have been all but abandoned. 

Children and the new world

While the pandemic has allowed those of us who are parents (old or new) to bond with our children in an entirely different way, the far-reaching impacts of the pandemic, especially on young children and their behaviour, need to be paid special attention to. Their behaviour is going to change post-pandemic, and while some of these changes may be improvements, others may put them at a disadvantage, both in the short and long term. 

For a clearer idea of child behaviour and how it is likely to change post-pandemic, we spoke to some child experts: Karawanella Base Hospital Consultant Paediatrician Dr. W.M.A. Rasika Kumara, and counselling psychologist Dr. Kalharie Pitigala. 

Nature vs. nurture 

Karawanella Base Hospital Consultant Paediatrician Dr. W.M.A. Rasika Kumara

Speaking on the biological impacts of the change of environment due to the pandemic and how this may manifest in the long term in children, Dr. Kumara shared that child development is a long process that is a balance of both nature and nurture. “While nature is the genetic component, nurture is the environment in which the child grows up. This environment has a direct impact on a child’s mental and physical development,” Dr. Kumara said, adding: “Their environment includes the social environment, emotional environment, economic environment, and physical environment. All of these surroundings impact the development of children in terms of the cognitive, emotional, social, and physical aspects.”

The pandemic, and the accompanying risk of illness, have led to children being confined to protective environments, which has resulted in them being socially isolated and restricted to a few activities. This isolation has the potential to have a major impact on the social development of a child. “Lack of exposure to stimulating activities will result in impaired growth of a child’s brain and limited physical and mental development. However, in the long run, this may give rise to a generation of adults with low working capacities,” Dr. Kumara noted. 

Restrained and reduced physical activity also puts children at an increased risk of obesity in childhood and in turn, as they get older. Dr. Kumara stressed the importance of keeping children physically engaged and active. “Getting children involved in physical games and exercise routines will vastly benefit their health and development. Reduced screen time and more exposure to family and nature will be extremely beneficial as well.”

Social and emotional support goes a long way 

Dr. Pitigala shared with us that behavioural changes in children would be very specific to each child. As with all children (and people), some thrive in certain situations while others may not react the same way in those situations. While some children have become hyper due to remaining stagnant physically and mentally, others have found the slowed pace of the pandemic peaceful and have used it as an opportunity to recharge. “Children at this point have no means of communicating with their peers and no means of interacting with the outside world; they are unable to get that same interaction with their family members,” Dr. Pitigala explained, adding: “This has led to some children showing signs of withdrawal, some showing impulsivity, some showcasing boredom and lethargy, and some displaying addictive behaviours like social media and video game addictions. We get a lot of complaints these days about children being addicted to TikTok, for example.”

Counselling psychologist Dr. Kalharie Pitigala

Additionally, Dr. Pitigala shared that with children having gotten used to a certain routine lifestyle, some might find it difficult to express themselves due to the change of circumstances. 

On how parents can help their children build good behavioural habits in the long term, Dr. Pitigala encouraged parents to spend time with their children. “I believe parents must allocate at least one hour to chat with their children every day, preferably in the evening, so they can discuss their plights of the day,” she said, adding: “It should be with the intention of getting a deep understanding of their children and showing them respect, without judgement.”

She also stressed that getting children involved in productive and, especially, outdoor day-to-day activities like cooking and gardening, or even having a picnic or tea party in the garden, was important. “I am stressing on outdoor activities, as I believe it is crucial to bond with nature these days, to break the monotony.” Spending time outdoors combined with helping children work according to detailed timetables that include a balance of stimulation, from physical activity to arts and crafts, Dr. Pitigala said, was our best chance at helping children stay active, supporting their emotional growth, and helping them come through the pandemic as the best possible versions of themselves. 

“If you have a pool, do some hydrotherapy; children want to see a lot of colour and glamour these days, so bake cupcakes with different colours, paint walls with different colours, and just help the flow of happy hormones,”  Dr. Pitigala explained. “In addition, just give them an extra dose of love. You have the extra time and you have them with you, so why not? But make sure that you identify your child’s love language.” 

Mid-pandemic parenthood

Moving away from the labyrinth of socioemotional repercussions the pandemic is likely to have on our future generations for a moment, Brunch chatted with some parents on the cherished memories they have been able to make with their precious little ones during this time, and how they have seen their children adapt to this uncertain time. 

My baby started pestering everyone to read books to her

Prasadi Wijesinghe

During the lockdown, my baby started pestering everyone to read books to her. We had to hide half of her books because we didn’t have time to do anything else. And then she started developing her motor skills. She also started to do things alone, like combing her hair and eating alone – which would ultimately turn into a disaster, but it is good for her growth. She is actually fond of music; she will tap on her feeding tray to make noises. So, we bought her a drum. Now, she beats the drum.

This has brought them closer together 

Hasini Ranasinghe

I have two daughters two years apart and since the lockdown, the little one has learned to ride the bicycle. Now, they are uncontrollably riding together in the lane. There were several occasions when they injured themselves and came home crying. However, this has brought them closer together and it is making me very happy to see them bonding.

Lockdown was an opportunity to develop his art

Shehani Jayawardene

My son fancies himself an artist. For every birthday he asks for colouring books and paint supplies. This lockdown, I submitted his art to an amateur art competition and he watched some of his favourite cartoons for hours to learn how to draw the ocean waves correctly. He did a painting for us to hang in the living room.

This has now become our daily routine

Sachini Kaushalya

I am a teacher and since the lockdown, I have been at home with my daughter as well. She watches me clean the house every day and imitates me. When we switch on the radio, she dances around while dusting the chairs. This has now become our daily routine. It is wonderful to get to enjoy these beautiful moments with my daughter.