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How best to help kids born into the Covid-19 world

Caution and social bubbles are the norm, and parents need to parent differently

January 18, 2022 / 03:56 PM IST
Parents need to keep their own anxiety in check because kids pick up on adults' emotional state.  (Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels)

Parents need to keep their own anxiety in check because kids pick up on adults' emotional state. (Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels)

Did you know that Beagles were preferred by many medical organisations that did their research on animals? Many of these dogs were bred in clinical conditions and kept inside all their lives, never getting to see the world outside or smell it.

Some time ago, when animal rights groups raised a huge hue and cry about the issue, hundreds of Beagles were rescued in a programme aptly called Freegles. Thing is, since these dogs had never been outside, getting them rehomed and back to their natural selves was a huge task. There are videos on the internet where an open cage of the young dog is put out on a beautiful lawn with dog treats and other fun things a few yards away, and the dog whines and yelps, but hardly steps out of its cage before running back in. It is quite a heart-rending scene.

Similarly so many babies born and socialised under the shadow of Covid-19, when limited social circles, masked people and constant sanitising are the norm, are markedly different from babies born before the pandemic. 

Read also: Coronavirus Omicron India Live Updates

The more cautious families have been taking as-close-to-zero exposure approach as possible, with even immediate family restricted to video calls. Some families, especially those living in apartment societies or fairly secure or isolated communities, have created social bubbles with a few kids that can play with each other. Some residential schools that are a fair way away from general societies have been lucky enough to continue life close to a pre-Covid normal.

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COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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Parents are unsure of how much to let the kids socialise and kids are picking up all that anxiety as well. We see young babies get quite flustered at the sight of groups of unmasked people. Some parents took the breaks between Covid waves, when playschools and nurseries opened up. It was a decidedly different experience–balancing safety concerns while encouraging the messiness that babyhood means. 

How can one sanitise whole sand pits? What of the random ants and what-not that kids would handle? How much masking would the adults there need and how does that affect the kids’ learning, since babies rely so much on mirroring adults’ faces?

Kids show signs

We can see that kids who had enough resources and support seem quite different from those who didn’t have as much. We see some kids with much worse separation anxiety than one would expect. Kids may not understand how to share as easily. Some kids, especially ones who were the only baby at home, are so used to having adults around all the time that they don’t know what to do with other kids and keep seeking adult company. 

Some young children are already constantly seeking to sanitise themselves, even pressing anything that looks like a lever expecting that familiar fragrance.

Read also: Online purchases without permission by kids increased during pandemic: Olx report

It is one thing to think of the kids who were in regular pre-Covid normalcy and had to adjust to a Covid-informed way of life, and waiting to resume life as it was, and quite another to think of babies born into the Covid world, and have spent their infant years very much within these loops of home quarantine, social distancing and sanitising. 

Will there be a longer-term impact on these Covid babies? Will their mental health be different from babies before this era? Will Covid change how we bring up babies for years to come?

We don’t know. 

Comparisons of Covid babies with other extraordinary times such as babies born into ongoing long-term conflict zones, socially vulnerable groups and other such groups give us a few hints – that the babies may grow up with a greater vigilance, may have long-term low levels of anxiety, may need occasional support, or they may quickly get over it. We cannot say for sure, but we do need to look out for those signs.

What can be done

For parents, when young kids are worried about how to work through these times of uncertainty and the lurching between different "normals," here are a few things that can help. 

First, keep your own anxiety in check. Kids pick up on your emotional state and so making sure you are secure is really important. 

Second, communicate at length with your kids in ways they can understand–do many rounds of practice, have different key phrases or code words maybe. 

Next, watch how the kids play with their toys and objects. Young kids tend to immediately process whatever they are going through. So, if you find their plush toys being hidden, or pushed face down or away, you would see that emotion play out. 

Also, kids pay attention to how the adults around them behave with each other. So, make sure they see you exhibit safe and secure behaviour. 

Last, give your kids tools to soothe themselves. Fidget toys, comfort blankets and so on do work. You can also practise gentle breathing exercises and show them

The Freegles we started this discussion with did need experienced dog-families that had the patience and love to see them through the initial months, and for the most part, most dogs adjusted quite fabulously well, running through woods, grinning and lolling their tongues about, smelling everything and just having a whale of a time. We have all the reason to believe the Covid babies will turn out just fine as well.



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Mahesh Natarajan
first published: Jan 18, 2022 03:56 pm
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