Parents must put their detective hats on, says mental health expert at Child Safety Department webinar

Discussion offers parental tools to be more intuitive to catch signs of anxiety
in children caused by coronavirus, and how to respond 

An insightful webinar session organised recently by the Child Safety Department (CSD) in Sharjah, has offered parents, teachers and childcare workers in the UAE key tools and resources to successfully navigate the unprecedented aftereffects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis children and adolescents are experiencing, particularly emotionally.

Leading the discussion, titled, ‘How to Care for Your Child’s Mental Health During COVID-19’, Dr Daniela Salazar, a Clinical Psychologist at The LightHouse Arabia, a community mental health and wellness center, said it was crucial for parents to create an open, accepting and safe emotional environment at home for children and young adults.

“Grief, sadness, worry, anger… these are all valid feelings, especially given the circumstances we are in,” she noted, adding that children aren’t able to verbalise their feelings as well as adults do. “We need to have a detective hat on for them, so we can help them identify and address their emotions in appropriate ways.”

Offering insight into how parents can support unique emotional needs of children of different age groups, Daniela said tweens and teens cannot be ignored just because they are putting a brave face on.

Catching signs of emotional distress. Naming their feelings, and yours.

Salazar cited statistics from international research on COVID-19’s effects on youth worldwide, which have showed an increase in anxiety levels, especially in adolescents, about uncertainty about their future. The expert said this was a time when children and adolescents will have difficulty understanding their emotional ups and downs or put a name to what they are feeling.

“All behaviour is communication,” she noted, adding, “as parents, we have a responsibility to go beyond their child’s surface feelings to identify their hidden or underlying needs that aren’t being met.” Salazar said this was the perfect time to teach children resilience by using anxiety management tools and modelling positive behaviours in them.

Daniela also reminded parents to be in tune with their own emotions and anxieties.

“How am I reacting in front of my child? They are always looking at you and 80 percent communication is non-verbal. It’s okay to be feeling fear or frustration or worry in these unprecedented times. Calm your fears first, and name your feelings.” she said.

Focus on what you can do. Be positive.   

Salazar said it was of utmost importance for parents to check and enhance their child’s understanding of COVID-19. She also stressed the need to focus on keeping children healthy with good food and hygiene, and keeping them gainfully occupied with their studies, extracurricular activities, and virtual play dates with friends.

“Focus on the good and engage children in positive affirmations rather than trying to ‘stay away from the virus’.” she added.

Hanadi Saleh Al Yafei, Director of CSD, concluded the session thanking all attendees and noted that CSD will continue organising more discussions targeting child safety and having a safe environment for them, especially in the context of COVID-19 in the near future.

To stay informed of Child Safety Department upcoming activities, follow them on Instagram, Facebook, and twitter @childsafetyuae.

About the Child Safety Department

The Child Safety Department is an affiliate of the Supreme Council for Family Affairs (SCFA) in Sharjah and was launched under the directives of Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, Chairperson of the SCFA and wife of His Highness the Ruler of Sharjah. It works to promote awareness about children’s safety, protection, and social stability to ensure children are physically and psychologically healthy in a stable and secure family environment.

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