COVID-19 through the eyes of children

Author: Anahit Harutyunyan


When six-year-old Sophie draws, she divides the page into before the coronavirus and after.

A clear, dark line separates the bright and blossoming spring, which is now a block of black and red, filled with darkness. In the second half, even the trees are devoid of leaves and flowers.

Her drawing, according to educational psychologist Lusine Harutyunyan (no relation to the author), reflects the impact the coronavirus and the lockdowns are having on children’s lives in Armenia.

Armenia initially announced a national state of emergency on March 16 and it was extended to July 13. While some restrictions have been lifted, a steady uptick in cases means life is far from normal.

“If we look at the pictures, we will see that most of the children seem to be isolated from the world or imagine themselves somewhere outside the planet,” Harutyunyan says, noting that they are drawing masks on everything, even rabbits.

“This indicates how children absorb information and are more attentive.”



To understand better how children view the virus and the upheaval it has caused in their lives, psychologists at the Gyumri National Center of Aesthetics asked them to draw pictures of the world after the virus.

While little Sophie imagines a clear border between past and present, other children fantasized about being far away from what is happening around them—sometimes even on a different planet, waiting, in safety, for the virus to be taken care of.

“There are paintings where the children are alone; a child imagines the new reality as empty. Of course, this is worrying because it speaks of fear,” notes Harutyunyan.

Psychologists at the New Light Mentoring Center in Gyumri, Armenia, are also paying attention to how children are coping with the pandemic and restrictions on public movement. While it can be easy to overlook the impact on children, specialists argue they are acutely experiencing everything around them—often through the prism of how their families are responding to it.

“If the family is very focused on this virus, and has scared the child instead of educating them about the risks then…a phobia of staying away from people, constantly washing hands and getting infected from everyone [could remain with the child],” says Shogher Mikaelyan, a psychologist and the founder of the New Light Mentoring Center.

“This process also led children to become more connected to computers and telephones. Now you don't know, the child is learning or if they are playing.  The real and virtual borders have been blurred.”



Tina Antinyan, who has two boys--Arturik, 8, and Aram, 5, has already noticed some changes in Arturik’s attitude and behavior.

“They understand--we explained to them that it is not allowed to leave the house, it is necessary to limit contact with other people,” she says, underscoring that she and her husband are trying to educate the children about the danger, but not frighten them.  

Arturik seems to be taking the situation in stride—he carefully explains how he puts on a mask and washes his hands, adding that before he used to let people give him a kiss on the check but not these days. Now, he explains, only his grandparents and parents can kiss him because they live in the same house.

“Staying home for a long time becomes really difficult, they start creating games for themselves, often resulting in breaking and destroying something,” his mother, Tina Antinyan, notes. “A parent must be 100 percent devoted to the children; someone must constantly keep them busy.”

Even the internet, once a favorite pastime, cannot hold Arturik’s attention for long these days. The online school lessons became a source of frustration, since the Wi-Fi signal would cut off and it was hard to hear the teacher’s explanations. He also missed his friends.

The younger the children, the more difficulty they have understanding the situation, according to educators. Kindergartens reopened on May 21 for parents who had to return to work. They have to follow strict social distancing and preventive guidelines: frequent checks for temperature and maintaining six feet (two meters) of distance between the children.

There are extra precautions as well: the playground is regularly disinfected and the teachers also try to keep the children’s hands sanitized with hand gel. In addition, parents bring food from home for their children. The bed linen is also washed at home now.



Out of the 23 kindergartens in the city, only eight are currently operating, and teachers say at most, four to five children attend a day. While they have tried to maintain social distancing rules, it is difficult.

“Children socialize…they do not understand. They are worried about why the other children did not come. Now one child from each group attends, they ask why the others did not come. This routine and situation is alien to them. We always try to explain it to them in an age-appropriate way,” notes Anna Gaboyan, the director of Lapterik kindergarten.



The disrupted routine is even more difficult for children with disabilities, according to Karine Mirzoyan, a psychologist at the Emili Aregak Center for Children with Disabilities.

Before the center was focused on helping children with special needs get out of the house and socialize. Now that is next to impossible and families are struggling to cope with the challenges, she says.

“Imagine children with autism, down syndrome, hyperactive children at home…Their parents explain to them that it is not possible to leave the house. But nothing changes and they're trying to get out,” Mirzoyan says.

“When we do a video call, we feel that the children have become irritable,” she notes, adding that it is difficult to interact with the children via video, especially with the added distractions and noise of other members of the family.

Lusine Gevorgyan* has a 10-year-old child with autism. She says the situation is very difficult because her daughter depends on routine and now she is unable to go to the center or do her other usual activities.

“Staying at home broke her routine, she did not know what to do in these unusual conditions and she became irritable and depressed. She began to shut herself in,” Gevorgyan says.

While the family has overcome some of the challenges, now Gevorgyan is afraid her daughter will not want to leave the house once it is safe to do so.

“Of course, we have already lost some of the effects of our work that we have been doing over the years. There is a setback, but the emotions we see means that something is preserved, they remember, they show their longing,” notes Mirzoyan.



“Let's be honest, we have all lost a lot by not socializing…the same is true of our children, but this is also an opportunity to re-evaluate relationships.”

She adds that while it has been a struggle for parents and children, there has also been some positive aspects—for instance, during the lockdown, some fathers started to take a more active role in their children’s lives.

People now realize how important everyone is in our lives,” Mirzoyan says.

 For 11-year-old Hovhannes, it has meant less opportunity to play with friends, but more time to spend with his dad. “My mum and dad said we should be careful, to protect our grandparents from the virus. We will wait until this coronavirus passes and then we will be able to play with our friends again,” he said, adding “you know what happened, my father promised that he would play football with me [instead] during the summer holidays, we played yesterday.”

 

* Name changed to protect the child’s privacy


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