july 2021

Smile Foundation

smilescapes

IN FOCUS 1

Children and the pandemic: A look at their mental health and well-being

The Covid pandemic has affected all sections of society in one way or the other since its onset. Among health and safety concerns, we also have to worry about the mental and emotional health of our children. They are unable to meet their friends, play outside, or engage in extracurricular activities. They are also unable to observe, explore, and learn from the world at large.

As per UNICEF, the 2020 lockdowns led to the closure of almost 1.5 million schools in India. This brought chaos to the daily lives of over 247 million students of elementary and secondary schools. In addition, this situation could have a profound impact on the mental and socio-emotional well-being of children.

Children are deprived of play and physical contact. These are critical for their psycho-social well-being and development. Therefore, the role of parents, educationists, and development workers in keeping them engaged, motivated, hopeful, and happy has become more important than ever.

Staying fit and practising physical activities is a must for emotional, mental, and physical well-being. Physical exercise or yoga are integral elements in the curriculum for a blended mode of learning by the ME centres.

The importance of consuming healthy nutrients, soaking in sunlight, and exercising can help relieve some of the stress and fear among children and adults.

We could see this as an opportunity like no other. With children being at home a lot more often than they were before, this might be a chance to teach them some responsibility as well as critical socio-emotional life skills to help them tide through this time. We must reignite their self-awareness, mindfulness, grit, and appreciation for this journey called life.

In addition to loneliness and isolation in light of public health safety measures, the poor mental health of parents could be a contributing factor in negative mental health outcomes for children. For millions of children, especially the vulnerable ones, school is a safety net of sorts. With their parents working hard all day to make ends meet at home, the children can seek refuge in counsellors and teachers at school. The pandemic-induced closure of schools has denied them this.

We at Smile Foundation have been making concerted effort to ensure that children’s health along with their education does not take a backseat. We have even come up with various initiatives for the same.

Zlin Film Festival and Smile International Film Festival came together this summer for the first time. Together they brought for the children of India a little over 100 minutes of fun and entertainment from 27 May to 1 June. And all this happened in the safety of their homes during the second wave of the pandemic. SIFFCY had organised a virtual film festival during last year’s lockdowns as well.

We showed the children 10 animated, non-verbal, and super entertaining movies. We believe that cinema is a powerful medium that helps to instil values such as empathy and compassion amongst children. In addition, such value-based movies contribute towards their mental well-being and also teach them to be more responsible. Animated movies with beautiful stories provide children and adults alike with a much-needed break from the mundane routine of staying at home. It could get one’s creative juices flowing too!

We also organized an online campaign against child labour. The purpose of this campaign was to distract the thoughts of children from the horrifying news and images of the surging second wave of COVID-19 while spreading awareness about the issue. Children were asked to participate in poster making or essay writing competitions on the topic of child labour. Feeling distressed and disheartened, unable to physically meet their friends and teachers amid the second wave, and stuck in another lockdown, the campaign helped many children engage proactively in something creative and thoughtful. Such activities result in engaging not just children but their parents as well.

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