Writing in The Lancet, pediatric specialists lay out the negative effects of home confinement on children during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. The authors, led by Guanghai Wang from the Shanghai Children’s Medical Center, discuss the issues related to children and adolescents in home confinement that arose during the outbreak of COVID-19 in China.
With the global spread of the coronavirus and the resulting pandemic, their experiences are increasingly relevant in other areas of the world as well. The authors offer suggestions to mitigate the harm to children and young adults that can be caused by school closures and home confinement.
“Stressors such as prolonged duration, fears of infection, frustration and boredom, inadequate information, lack of in-person contact with classmates, friends, and teachers, lack of personal space at home, and family financial loss can have even more problematic and enduring effects on children and adolescents,” the researchers write.
“To mitigate the consequences of home confinement, the government, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the community, school, and parents need to be aware of the downside of the situation and do more to effectively address these issues immediately.”
As COVID-19 continues to spread, many areas of the world are experiencing the closure of K-12 schools and are faced with the reality of home confinement for children and adolescents. While it is known that time away from school, and particularly the routine schools provide, can be difficult for many students, negative effects on health are likely much worse when faced with confinement for an unpredictable amount of time such as in the case of COVID-19.
“Evidence suggests that when children are out of school (eg, weekends and summer holidays), they are physically less active, have much longer screen time, irregular sleep patterns, and less favorable diets, resulting in weight gain and a loss of cardiorespiratory fitness.” Adding, “perhaps a more important but easily neglected issue is the psychological impact on children and adolescents.”
Based on observations of home confinement in China, Wang and colleagues suggest the following actions from stakeholders:
- The government should raise the awareness of potential physical and mental health impacts of home confinement during this unusual period and provide guidelines and principles in effective online learning and ensure that the contents of the courses meet the educational requirements.
- Non-governmental organizations can aid in creating and disseminating programs and materials that encourage healthy habits and provide psychosocial support to children home from school.
- Communities can also provide resources for managing difficulties that arise during home confinement. For example, Wang and colleagues suggest, “parents’ committees can work together to bridge the needs of students with school requirements and to advocate for children’s rights to a healthy lifestyle.”
- Schools play a major role in this transition. By providing material for students to continue their education and by offering students the opportunity to stay connected to their school community. Additionally, when possible, schools can offer resources for mental health care.
“Schools can actively promote a health-conscious schedule, good personal hygiene, encourage physical activities, appropriate diet, and good sleep habits, and integrate such health promotion materials into the school curriculum.”
- Finally, parents often serve as the closest and most reliable source of support for children and adolescents during times of high stress. The authors suggest that “close and open communication with children is the key to comforting children in prolonged isolation.”
“Children are constantly exposed to epidemic-related news, so having direct conversations with children about these issues could alleviate their anxiety and avoid panic.
Each entity has a role to play in supporting the wellbeing of children, adolescents, and families during this unprecedented time. While home confinement carries a number of complications, the authors offer a positive:
“Home confinement could offer a good opportunity to enhance the interaction between parents and children, involve children in family activities, and improve their self-sufficiency skills. With the right parenting approaches, family bonds can be strengthened, and child psychological needs met.”
Wang, G., Zhang, Y., Zhao, J., Zhang, J., & Jiang, F. (2020). Mitigate the effects of home confinement on children during the COVID-19 outbreak. The Lancet. (Link)