This is the second document in the COVID-19 and response strategy series. On this ocassion, the document, written by ICREA Researcher Quique Bassat, is focused on children: can we meet children’s needs during home confinement and relaxation of restrictions?
The royal decree that stipulated the norms and recommendations resulting from the state of emergency did not specifically mention the child population, assuming that this population (8.13 million people, 17% of citizens residing in Spain) it was not "essential" according to the established criteria and therefore did not require special attention.
Globally accumulated experience suggests that children, unlike adults, have a lower predisposition to become seriously ill as a result of this disease.
After more than four weeks elapsed since the beginning of the confinement there have been revealed the difficulties and challenges that an extraordinary situation like this entails, and various voices have begun to warn about the possible harmful consequences for physical, psychological and emotional health among young children.
Consequences of confinement on childhood physical and mental health
Experts emphasize that children, while tremendously resilient, are not indifferent to the dramatic impact the pandemic is having on their immediate environment.
These are some of its main characteristics:
- Confinement is associated with a decrease in physical activity, a worsening of the diet, and an increase in "screen" time, all leading to possible weight gains.
- From a psychological point of view, children are prone to present fears, anxiety, irritability, distractions, frustrations and stress in comparable measures to adults.
- Confinement and emergency contexts can be associated with an increase in domestic violence and abuse.
Recommendations to mitigate the effects of confinement in childhood
It is essential that proactive mechanisms are implemented during confinement that can prevent or mitigate the harmful effects of confinement on the physical and mental health of children. We highlight the following:
- A strict routine of personal hygiene and activities that include the participation of children in regular cleaning and cooking tasks must be implemented in each home.
- Since part of the day should be dedicated to learning, the role of teachers and other educational professionals will be essential for daily accompaniment.
- Physical exercise, healthy dietary and sleeping habits, and hours of pure leisure should also be encouraged.
- Parents and other cohabitants must make an effort to act as role models, proactively stimulating dialogue and communication, as well as the involvement of children in family activities and decision-making. In this way, children and adolescents will be able to continue developing, despite the circumstances, their emotional integrity, identity, independence and resilience.
- Finally, additional tools for social and financial support must be enabled for those families with the most disadvantaged children.
Recommendations for progressive unlocked for childhood
Our relative ignorance of SARS-CoV2 infection and COVID-19 disease in children, as well as their potential as transmitters, forces us to be cautious and consider children as a potential important link in the transmission of COVID- 19, as clearly seen for other viral diseases with epidemic potential. It is therefore essential to consider the following measures:
- That children can start going outside from the beginning of the unlock in a controlled way, for a limited time and with adult accompaniment.
- Children must follow the same rules of the game as adults, keeping the minimum distance of two meters, using masks and other hygiene means.
- It will be particularly important to postpone children's contact with the two large groups of vulnerable people, the chronically ill and the elderly.
- Teenagers over 16 years old can go out unaccompanied, but they must follow the same rules as adults.
- Children in special situations, such as the chronically ill, children with disabilities, autism spectrum disorders and others should follow specific recommendations tailored to their needs.