The Emotional Impact of Covid-19 on our Child
A few weeks ago, my primary schooler got off the school bus and promptly burst into tears.
‘Mommy, I am scared. Will I get coronavirus?’ he sobbed.
When I calmed him down and extracted the full story out of him, I found out that a schoolmate had stuffed his hand into my child’s mouth on the bus.
Being a frontliner myself in education, I had been drilling the gravity of Covid-19 into my children – the dangers of the disease, importance of good hygiene.
The anti-social behavior from the other child was obviously wrong, but it was the possibility of contracting Covid-19 that really scared my primary schooler.
As he worried about the possibility of dying to Covid-19, I wondered if I had come off too strong in my warnings to the children.
In my neuroscience training, I learnt that the Basal Ganglia in our brain is responsible for emotional processing, blends feelings and movement and is involved with our motivation.
When our Basal Ganglia is overly active, we feel very anxious, literally paralysed into inaction and demotivated.
The Anterior Cingulate in our brain is responsible for cognitive flexibility and cooperation. When it incurs problems, we feel stuck, worry too much, become obsessive and compulsive, and become negative.
Now we know both motivation and cognitive flexibility improve learning skills. However, situations that decrease motivation and cognitive flexibility may take a toll on our child's emotional health.
Our brain functions best, not void of stress, but with a moderate level of stress. In fact, some level of anxiety activates and stimulates our brain, increasing our motivation.
A temporary period of heightened level of stress sends our body into alert and springs us into action. However, a prolonged period of high stress has negative impact on our brain, hence our emotional and physical health suffer.
Following the outburst from the bus, I wonder if my own anxiety about handling our defence towards Covid-19 has been projected to my primary schooler, generating big scary feelings he cannot process.
When the bus incident happened, it triggered and set off the undercurrent anxiety he had been feeling.
The recommendation to soothe our over-excited Basal Ganglia is meditation, relaxation, hypnosis but our child may not know how to utilize these easily.
Hence, it is important that we, as adults and especially as parents, are projecting the right messages and attitude to our child.
It has been a month since the world is thrown into the pandemic of Covid-19. Wuhan (and other China cities) have been in lockdown since 23 January.
Besides air travel, commuting, travelling and even general activities within our daily lives have greatly reduced.
As China and the world spring to action with its emergency response, the financial cost of Covid-19 sky-rockets but is yet drawing to a conclusion.
What about the emotional and social cost to our society from this virus? We have not even begun to consider this, but perhaps, we really should.
Have you been avoiding some places or people?
Do you get suspicious of the stranger who sits down next to you?
Have you stopped offering hug or even shaking hands?
As we cancel our travel plans, our visit to the zoo with the kids, the playdate at the indoor playground, avoid eating out, how long can we keep up this abnormal lifestyle whilst managing our child’s emotional well-being?
Courage isn’t a mental space void of fears.
Confidence isn’t a mental space void of anxiety.
Being courageous and confident is how we act in spite of fear and anxiety.
If Covid-19 is a test of mankind, then our response to it during this period (how we practice social responsibility, how we treat people despite our own fear, how we band together to overcome it) shall become the story of how we combat Covid-19.
This is how our history will be written.
Let’s get through this adversity with dignity, courage, kindness and unity.
Let this be the story of how our child will narrate this chapter of mankind.