The COVID-19 pandemic that has shaken Quebec for nine months now is creating unprecedented upheavals in the lives of children. Distance school, end of sports activities, atypical holiday season, for example. With the second wave that continues, the Montreal Children’s Hospital is also noticing greater distress in young patients who consult, and its head of psychiatry offers this advice to parents.
Parents reassured = reassuring
“It is often said in the field that a reassured parent is a reassuring parent,” says psychiatrist Martin Gignac. He therefore recommends that parents learn to deal with their own stress first.
To do this, he advises them to focus on the things over which they have control. Stop thinking about when the pandemic will end, when the vaccine will arrive, when restaurants and gyms will open, he says.
Focus on the everyday things you do to protect yourself, such as washing your hands and wearing a mask. And while it is important to stay informed, he recommends limiting the overconsumption of continuous news.
Smartphones, laptops, tablets, televisions: there’s no shortage of screens these days. And the pandemic has led to increased use of these devices. With distance schooling and social gatherings through Zoom, some parents have “let go”, according to Dr. Gignac.
He therefore strongly advises limiting screen time for recreational purposes in children.
On average, children who spend more than two hours a day on screens for fun will show more signs of anxiety or even depression. “They lose the ability to occupy their mind without external stimulation,” says the specialist.
Even if the possibilities are now limited by health measures, he suggests finding some sporting and artistic activities far from the screens.
And adults need to be good role models, he recalls, suggesting to lead by example by not looking at your cell phone every five minutes.
Establish a routine
Even if the pandemic has undoubtedly turned the lives of all Quebecers upside down, Dr. Gignac recalls the importance of “maintaining a routine, a predictable framework for children”.
He suggests making it clear what to do during the day and finding recreational activities.
As much as possible, it will be important to divide the day into several times, especially with distance school. According to him, we must avoid having “a large indigestible block of school time.”
Then parents will be able to alternate between times with family and times when the children, depending on their age, can have fun alone or with each other.
Do not hesitate to consult
“We see more distress, particularly in the second wave,” said Martin Gignac.
He adds that in psychiatry, hospitals observed a marked lull in consultations, perhaps because people were staying at home.
The specialist is worried about the consequences of this drop in consultation. Even if it is too early to say if there are now more young people in distress, he believes that “those in distress seem to have a greater intensity”.
He notes a “marked and significant wave” currently.
This is why he encourages all parents who notice a “change in behavior, attitude or mood and worrying remarks about suicide, the meaning of life in their child” not to hesitate to consult.
It refers to changes such as young people isolating themselves or a loss of pleasure in activities that previously seemed popular, for example.