Shielding children from depression especially during Covid-19 is something that a lot of parents are interested in. As an important preamble, children are a lot cleverer than we think they are. Therefore, it is imperative that we as parents have honest conversations with our children about what is going on. There is of course an amount of wisdom required so as not to overwhelm them with information which they do not need, but regardless of what we choose to share and what we choose to withhold, we still need to be honest in our approach.

Children require structure. Their brains need structure to develop in a healthy way. It is dangerous to leave them unattended because the lack of structure would be detrimental to their developmental milestones. So how do you engage them especially during this pandemic when they have a lot of free time on their hands? For starters, sit with them and come up with a timetable of activities. Ensure that it is as creative as possible. Utilize the morning section for more engaging tasks such as school work or learning new skills. Then reserve the afternoon for lighter duties and activities such as play time, gardening, social media, zoom calls with friends etc. Without structure and activities, children’s brains atrophy, and this is a significant way of shielding children from depression especially during Covid-19.

As you spend more time with your children, work towards having healthy and vulnerable engagements. Be ready to talk about your good days and your bad days, your achievements and failures. Allow your kids to connect with the real you, your human side, as opposed to a façade that you portray for fear that you will set the wrong example. Rather, exposing your vulnerability to your kids allows them to learn that we all make mistakes, it is what we do with our mistakes that counts. Teach your children about gratitude and contentment. Remind them of small things to be grateful for and the power of positivity. Let them know that comparing their lives to others is a slow-cooking recipe for disaster.

A vital thing to note is that children have higher levels of defense mechanisms. It explains why when a young child loses a parent they bounce back quicker than older children. Additionally, symptoms of mental illness begin to manifest at the age of 14 years. This is contributed partly to by the fact that at this age, there is an increase in the hormones. Before this age, most children only have symptoms that are telling of a problem, but it cannot be diagnosed. Most of these symptoms tend to manifest in negative coping mechanisms, though usually no one can really tell what is happening. Parents therefore need to pay attention to their children if their behavior changes and they adopt a different behavior pattern such as withdrawal. It could be telling of an issue that needs to be arrested early so as to shield them from depression especially during this Covid_19 period.

Lessons from Gathoni Mbugua, Clinical Psychologist at Chiromo Lane Medical Hospital.

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