This article is brought to you in collaboration with Child Development Unit (CDU), Khoo Teck Puat – National University Children’s Medical Institute, National University Hospital.
It has been almost two years of unpredictable social restrictions and adapting to new endemic norms. How have parents and children been coping? We speak with Dr Kang Ying Qi, Deputy Head and Senior Consultant at the Child Development Unit, Khoo Teck Puat – National University Children’s Medical Institute, National University Hospital.
Parents would be no less familiar with the following by now:
- School attendance being interrupted due to a child or classmate having flu or COVID-related quarantine orders. Many parents have also voluntarily paused schooling for their children, or even delayed enrolment. This could mean reduced social opportunities with peers.
- Parents who rely on community resources such as childcare or secondary caregivers like grandparents would have had periods of lost aid when tighter measures interrupted these support.
- The constant changes are unnerving and disruptive to our own routines and other responsibilities, resulting in some of us being less responsive to our children’s needs than we desire. Excessive screen time, insufficient physical activity, irregular sleep and meal times then become possible circumstances affecting our children’s development negatively.
Perhaps, as testament to the resilience of parents, Dr Kang shares her observations, “Parents have become more attuned to the recurrent disruptions in caregiving arrangements. Employers have also become more understanding of challenges faced by parents, such as when childcare arrangements are disrupted, and are more willing to exercise flexible work mode.”
“Children also appear to be coping better in many ways. They understand that school sometimes does not happen due to closures, or that they need to practise home based learning. Technology and our ease of access to it in Singapore are certainly an enabler in these times, compelling both parents and children to become more savvy. We also observe most kids are now used to the routine of wearing a mask before leaving the house and are comfortable with keeping it on most of the time.”
Is it all a positive picture now, with adults and children being adapted to the new norm?
There has, in fact, been a steady rise in the number of patients in CDU since pre-pandemic times.
“The most common conditions that we see in CDU are autism spectrum disorder (ASD), language delays and inattention, making up sixty percent of new preschooler cases in Singapore in 2020. NUH has also seen more referrals for conditions associated with excessive screen time since the pandemic.”
Instead of attributing it to the pandemic, Dr Kang shares that the increase in referrals and diagnoses is more likely due to greater screening efforts in the community and at preschools, as well as greater awareness among parents and teachers.
Related read: The Straits Times: Pandemic habits that hurt your child
Perhaps this is a good reminder not to become complacent, as there could be underlying risks for kids growing up in this pandemic generation.
Dr Kang offers the following advice to parents:
1. Take care of ourselves as we weather this drawn-out period of change and stress
Young children exist within the mini ecosystem that their caregivers create for them. Though it may not be intuitive, when adults take care of themselves first, children have better outcomes, simply because parents can then provide a more responsive and nurturing environment for their children, which in turn can help them buffer possible stressors of growing up in a pandemic.
Source: 4 Self-Care Tips for Parents
2. Continuously re-evaluate the risk-benefit ratio when making choices for our children
Within socially responsible and safe parameters, caregivers should not dismiss activities beneficial for our children. Instead we should find creative ways to fulfill their developmental needs. “In a haste to protect young children from COVID-19, some caregivers might have overly restricted their activities. Refrain from feeling that the pandemic is automatically going to interrupt the development of our kids. They are more resilient than we think – what is learnt can be unlearnt, what is yet to be learnt can be taught in the future. Our decisions as adults should constantly be adjusted as the pandemic moves towards endemicity,” Dr Kang added.3. Encourage sport and outdoor activities
Young children learn best through hands-on exploration, and these activities help them in all aspects of their development such as motor skills, language (e.g. when they listen to and comprehend the rules of a game, or discuss with their peers how and what to play), as well as social and emotional soft skills (e.g. understanding cooperation, team work, winning and losing). In these challenging and uncertain times, it’s an even greater way to build resilience as children learn to overcome challenges and try to achieve something, such as a goal or winning a game.
“Some parents have said that the pandemic has encouraged motor development in their children. Instead of going to malls or indoor places, they are bringing their children on long walks, for bicycle rides or just throwing and kicking a ball in an open area. Moreover, it’s safer being in vast, open spaces than confined, crowded areas, and physical activity is also crucial for children’s growth and health,” said Dr Kang.
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Take the opportunity to enhance the amount and quality of family time. Many parents have started doing craft, baking and cooking activities to keep homebound children occupied, contributing to fine motor and planning skills. Children have benefitted from more frequent opportunities to enjoy family meals or routines together, compared to when parents had to work outside home.
Lastly, Dr Kang’s additional advice for parents of children with special learning needs is just as helpful for other parents.
Source: Managing Learning At Home
For more resources, visit https://www.nuh.com.sg/nuhkids-covid19