The MCO, its emotional impact on children, and what to do about it

  • Nation
  • Wednesday, 15 Apr 2020

– Bernama

KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama): “My child is crying because we don’t take him out.”

“My son is stuck with his phone playing games all day long. I’ve no heart to stop him because I know he’s bored cooped up at home. Even I’m bored!”

These are extracts of some of the conversations parents are having with their friends on Facebook and WhatsApp groups.

Since the enforcement of the now six-week-long movement control order (MCO), which got off the ground on March 18, most parents and children have been holed up in their homes, 24/7. No school, no kindergarten, and no visits to the playground, shopping centre or supermarket, and no fun-filled trips to the kampung.

Being homebound for weeks can be torturous for children who are naturally gregarious, active and enjoy outdoor activities.

In fact, prolonged restriction on movements can have an emotional impact on children, particularly preschoolers and those at the primary-school level, according to psychologist Prof Datin Dr Mariani Md Nor.

“They get bored and even grow anxious because they can’t go to school and play with their friends.

“They feel they are being shackled and may demonstrate their dissatisfaction by becoming rebellious, more so when their parents don’t understand how they feel, ” explained Mariani, who is attached to the Department of Educational Psychology and Counselling, Universiti Malaya.

She said children aged between three and five who are usually sent to a daycare centre or nursery may not be affected by the MCO because they would be happy to stay at home with their parents.

To prevent boredom from setting in, Mariani, who is also Early Childhood Care and Education Council deputy president, urged parents to create a daily timetable for the children and allocate time for playing, studying and participating in activities.

“In this technological era, parents have to be more creative in planning activities that hold their children’s attention and excite them.

“Focus on activities they are interested in but at the same time in order to improve their knowledge, also include some side activities in which they don’t show much interest, ” she said.

She suggests setting aside a special space in the house for the children to do drawing, colouring and artwork. This is also a good time to organise indoor camping sessions for them and sharpen their skills at playing traditional games such as congkak and batu seremban, as well as boardgames.

Besides doing their homework and taking part in online teaching sessions that some teachers are conducting, children would also benefit from “live tutorials” on cooking, washing and arranging cutlery and dishes, decorating the house and gardening.

“And give them the opportunity to watch their favourite programmes on television, ” she added.

Online lessons

Meanwhile, Muhamad Fizri Jamal, who is a teacher at SK Parit Lapis in Batu Pahat, Johor, is doing his part to help his students pass their time fruitfully at home by conducting lessons for them through WhatsApp.

“We want them to think about school, their lessons and studying. We can’t teach them like how we do in the classroom but at least with this online initiative, we can still monitor them and ensure they have done their homework, ” he said.

He said by giving them schoolwork to do, children are less likely to feel bored and lethargic or spend too much time staring at their electronic gadgets.

He said the WhatsApp learning initiative is supported by the school administration and district education office, which provides teaching resources and materials to the teachers.

“Most of our students have access to smartphones with the WhatsApp feature and we conduct our lessons via audio and video recordings, ” he said, adding that there is no fixed time for the students to follow the lessons.

“We make it flexible for them because their parents would arrange what time their children can have access to the smartphone as some families only have one phone for the whole family to use.”

Using the audio/ video teaching format also allows the students to listen to or watch the recordings repeatedly in order to understand the topic better or for revision purposes, added Fizri, who has been an English language teacher for the past 10 years.

Children who have been infected

Although not many children contract Covid-19, the stories of some children who were affected by the disease went viral on social media and touched the hearts of many people.

One of them is two-year-old Muhammad Fateh Aqil Mohd Nazmee from Kelantan, who has blood cancer and tested positive for Covid-19. He was supposed to have gone for his chemotherapy session at Hospital Universiti Sains Malaysia in Kota Baru but this had to be postponed after his Covid-19 test results were known.

Social media is also full of videos of young Covid-19 suspected cases who had to be taken in an ambulance to hospital by healthcare staff as their family members were not allowed to accompany them.

One of these children is believed to have attended a religious function which was also attended by a person who had participated in the tabligh gathering at the Sri Petaling Mosque in Selangor.

The videos of children being taken away from their homes by hospital staff dressed in personal protective equipment went viral on Twitter and brought forth comments such as "This breaks my heart... imagining he’s my own little brother”; "Just imagine how the parents are feeling, their child is taken in an ambulance and they can’t go with him”; "Never bring any of your family to any event or gathering no matter how important it is. We never know what will happen. There are still some people who attended the tabligh gathering who have not been tested for Covid-19 yet”.

Commenting on this, Mariani said any child would be emotionally affected when separated suddenly from his or her parents and family members.

“They would feel anxious, afraid and fearful. If they are still young, they don’t understand what they are suffering from.

“Worse still, they have to face it alone without their parents by their side. This is emotionally painful for the child.

“However, to prevent the experience from being traumatic for the children, the hospital staff can help to keep them calm with their moral, social and spiritual support, ” she added. – Bernama

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