Nischita Gopinath is a very worried mother. “My daughter is so scared of people that if someone is just at our gate, she starts screaming. She has never seen more than 20 people at a time in her one and a half years, and she gets startled by every loud honk on the road," she laments.
Nischita’s daughter Loukhya was born in April last year, at a time when the Covid pandemic was coming into its own. The cautious family was extra careful in making sure the child wasn’t exposed to outsiders and, consequently, the infection. The only trips they went on were to the doctor for the baby’s vaccination. A little over a year later, the child is rapidly growing up and is stricken by social anxiety.
This is the case for many children born in the Covid era. They can’t stand loud noises as they have got used to the silence around them. With few faces to get accustomed to at home, even one stranger is a crowd. They have had their birthday parties among 10-20 people who are again their own family. Forget about the rest, they haven’t seen the world outside their homes much.
Unfortunately, these children assume their home is the world and the family is all that lives in it.
Quite inevitably, these children are forced to face the many stresses of the pandemic, says Dr Alok Kulkarni, senior consultant psychiatrist, Manas Institute of Mental Health. “These kids are surrounded by anxious parents and are living in an unpredictable and uncertain environment. There is little opportunity to familiarise these newborn children and infants with the outside world. This will take a toll of its own. We also find that children are becoming impulsive, inattentive and hyperactive. These are challenging and unprecedented times for those tiny brains as well,” he warns.
Psychiatrists are receiving several panic calls from parents of very young children. They have major issues adjusting to society and there is a very long way to go.
This may turn into bigger problems than expected, says child counsellor Nayana Srivatsa. “For now, the child is feeling irritated by the presence of a new person. If the parents just leave the children to themselves thinking this is how it will be, the kids will never get used to the outside world. So the parents should try gradually first by getting the child to befriend other kids their age, maybe a neighbour, and then begin by going for a stroll early in the morning or late in the evening when there is less crowd around. This is going to take a lot of time and is very patience-consuming but the times are such that there is no other option,” she says.