Children and adolescents confined to the home. How to prevent psycho-physical risks?

Speaking of children and adolescents, adaptation to the current situation linked to covid-19 and the consequent reaction are strictly connected to the family context and therefore to experiences and methods used by the reference adults. These, in quarantine, represent the closest resource.


Advertising message In response to the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19), the Italian government has ordered the closure of schools nationwide in order to limit their spread. This radical change in everyday life, the limits imposed and the uncertainty regarding the present and the future have generated a strong disorientation in every subject, from the largest to the smallest. But let’s stop to reflect on the experiences of children and adolescents.

Around 8 million students found themselves confined to their homes at school. The extraordinary measure forced the search for an alternative to school attendance, opting for distance learning, in which telematic means from computer to tablet to internet connections are the main resources. It was not and still is not easy to interface with such a different reality. Video calls, meetings, messages are not enough to talk about “school”. Every day we appreciate and recognize the preciousness of technology, we learn new things and we recognize ourselves capable of doing something that seemed so difficult. But what is it like to be behind a screen? Not being able to hug a partner, look him in the eye, play, chat with him, share your days with that class that is now a family. Although we try to guarantee the right to education, supporting families, guaranteeing equal rights for the weakest, meeting the needs of individual students, guaranteeing their integration, prolonged school closure, isolation in the home and limited socialization with peers it could have important negative consequences on the psychophysical health of children and adolescents.

There are numerous stress factors involved:

The impact of COVID-19, however, is not uniform across families and the contrast is often stark. Some have lost loved ones and live the infection very closely, others are located in regions with lesser spread. Some children have parents who work at the forefront of COVID-19 contexts, others have suspended work or work at home. The common thread that runs through every home, every family, is certainly a life full of fear but what is considered of fundamental importance, especially when we talk about the little ones, is to live your family environment as comforting.

The scientific community recognizes among the greatest risks the possibility of developing various psychopathologies: anxiety disorders, depression, obsessions, phobias, psychoses, eating disorders, sleep disturbances and post-traumatic disorders. We talk about reactions from the body and mind in response to a particularly difficult situation. Numerous factors come into play, from personal vulnerability to the context of life, considering the individual reality before the virus. It is clear that the same situation can have a different meaning for the individual, therefore it is necessary to take into account the subjective elaboration carried out by each one. The present moment is nothing more than a factor of invalidation, that is, a stressful situation that exposes the person to a threat. Hans Seley, Austrian doctor, he described how the organism reacts to stressful events, talking about general adaptation syndrome. In this regard, three phases can be distinguished:

In this emergency situation, each subject will have gone through the first physiological phase in the same way while the subsequent emotional and behavioral responses depend on individual perception and imagination. To assume a central role is the meaning that the person attributes to the event and therefore the thoughts with which he finds himself dealing.

Speaking of children and adolescents, adaptation and the consequent reaction are strictly connected to the family context and therefore to experiences and methods used by the reference adults.

These, in quarantine, represent the closest resource.

Among the factors that have a strong impact on the psychophysical health of children and teenagers, there is at the forefront the absence of a daily routine that contributes to an increase in free time, greater sedentary lifestyle, shifting of sleep-wake rhythms, social isolation and nutrition. disordered.

This results in unhealthy new habits that in the long run can have harmful effects.

What to do?

Avoid all this by starting with accurate information.

Maintain structured days by organizing activities that can fill everyday life. This does not mean to be rigid but to give order and spread a state of security at least in what is your comfort zone.

Among these, we prefer activities that keep stress at bay and that allow the emotional cocktail associated with the current emergency situation to emerge from COVID-19.

In the first place we find the artistic and creative expression thanks to which children and young people manage to give meaning to confusion and fear.

Art and play represent ways to connect through symbols and metaphors allowing them to take control of their chaotic environment.

Creativity and imagination, typical of the little ones, have a very precious role: they allow the expression of what is more difficult, they are the key to their spontaneous and naive world.

Here are the words of M. a 10 year old boy diagnosed with cognitive retardation during a video lesson in the quarantine period. Faced with simple questions, despite being behind the screen with his educator, he manages to say what he feels through the game, talking about emotions, pain and fatigue related to the emergency. An example of free expression.

This is followed by the importance of movement. Playing sports or simply playing dynamically, as well as promoting cognitive, emotional and social growth, is useful for modulating emotions, fighting stress, releasing accumulated tensions by increasing energy and a general state of well-being.

The guidelines of the World Health Organization indicate differentiated recommendations for each age group, according to different times and modalities.

In this period, games or movement activities carried out at home can have a double benefit: being a way to express more or less unpleasant emotions and at the same time contribute positively to one’s psycho-physical health.

Advertising message The combination of freedom of expression, movement, listening, attention and enhancement are fundamental points in the parent-child relationship. Furthermore, sharing the emergency situation presupposes an intimate confrontation, an opportunity in the relationship. The time available, the sometimes too narrow spaces “force you to be together”. How much can this unite or on the other side separate?

The adult in all this, providing a healthy model, without pouring out his anxieties, without stifling emotions and the expression of his own identity, acts as a protective factor in this situation of uncertainty.

To mitigate the consequences of domestic confinement, the government, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the community, school and parents need to be aware of the negative side of the situation and do more to tackle the difficulties immediately. The experiences learned from previous outbreaks can be useful for designing a new program to deal with problems.

Finding ourselves today in what is called “the second phase”, we begin to make future projects, to fantasize about the realization of desires that emerged during the quarantine because of the impossibility of being able to do what before was often considered ‘taken for granted’ . However, the presence of fear experiences should not be excluded from the idea of ‚Äč‚Äčleaving the door. At this stage, still full of uncertainty and fears, it would be desirable to take small steps towards the return of a life without the pandemic. Prepare for the new dispositions that aim to gradually return to school and all those activities that belong to everyone’s daily life after the summer.

Waiting for the sun to come out, by implementing the various most appropriate action strategies, we can protect ourselves from this thin and pungent rain.