SHAH ALAM (July 23): The pandemic and the ensuing lockdowns have been very difficult for everyone including children. MSU Medical Centre consultant paediatrician Dr Sharifah Aida Alhabshi gives some insights into effects of lockdowns and things to do in the new normal.
“It is tough and whenever the government loosen the order and we start to wind down and not adhere to the 3Cs (crowded places, confined spaces and close conversation) and practising 3Ws (wash hands frequently or use hand sanitiser; wear face masks in public places, and warn ourselves against touching others) and see spike in Covid cases.
“We are now experiencing the fourth wave. Up to 64,046 cases between Jan 25 and May 18, 2021 are less than 18 years old with a third below six years old.
“Lockdowns are temporary measures which may control the virus spread within the community and lessen the healthcare burden but there are major concerns about negative impact on mental health and the overall economy,” she said.
Lockdowns affect people from different socio-economic background differently. Those with secure jobs, big living spaces and privacy may not suffer as badly as those without job security, share a room with seven other family members, no privacy, limited internet and others.
Mental health and developmental milestone
For school-going children, repeated school closures and strict movement control means significant reduction in direct contact with peers and relatives. It also isolates children with no participation in social activities like going to the playground, the mall, or having playdates.
“This situation may subject them to feel lonely and anxious with some going into early depression (especially among young adults).
“Parents managing tight family budget may be overwhelmed too, having to balance children’s needs and survival of the family unit.”
She added that studies have shown that lockdowns affect the development of children’s speech, language, and social milestones.
Physical health, growth and nutrition
Regardless of age, lockdowns and strict movement control may also affect children’s physical health as they hardly go out or have a space to play and exercise safely.
“Being indoors most of the time, they get limited exposure to the sun and may suffer vitamin D deficiency and stunted growth. Due to lack of exercise and perhaps poor balanced nutrition, some put on weight,” said Dr Sharifah.
Repeated school closures disrupt children’s education progress. They need appropriate exposure and repeated stimuli to learn.
“Some children need it more than others. Online study actually reduces instructional exposure and constructive feedback which can affect the overall outcome.
“As school is not just about completing syllabus and examinations, it is a place where children learn to develop certain skills, abilities and behaviour necessary for educational success,” she said.
Malaysia’s Women, Family and Community Development Ministry recorded a total of 4,349 cases of physical, sexual and emotional abuse on children last year and 2,287 cases of domestic violence.
“To some children, school is their safe haven from a disruptive home environment. Some find refuge and help from peers or teachers when facing abusive situations.
“With lockdowns, these children have no outlet. Social workers unable to have proper home visits do not get insights of what is actually happening behind closed doors, with many cases going undetected,” she said, adding that vaccinating 80 per cent of the population would help achieve herd immunity to protect children who are unvaccinated.
Maintain some normalcy at home
Dr Sharifah recommends some physical activities as a family either indoors or outdoors if permitted.
“Be creative in planning these activities. Talk to friends or colleagues and brainstorm together. Draw up activity plans together and get the children involved in the planning including their school lessons,” she recommended.