The Malta Independent 13 July 2024, Saturday
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Children seek more time management skills in bid to deal better with mental health issues

Sabrina Zammit Monday, 22 May 2023, 08:28 Last update: about 2 years ago

Children are asking for time management skills, to be better equipped for their mental health, said Children’s commissioner Antoinette Vassallo in an interview with the Malta Independent on Sunday.

In an interview with The Malta Independent, the commissioner said that this is just one of the recommendations children have done through focus groups organized by the Office of the Commissioner for Children.

“There should be a balance between their school life, their extra-curricular activates and their time with their family” she said.

Additionally, through several school visits some educators have also stated that the syllabus is too “academically” heavy and that it is limiting their time in bonding with the children, which is in turn preventing them from early diagnosing children with mental health issues.

Children have also expressed their wish for more personal, social and career development classes, apart from time management, the focus groups which varied from year 3 to form four children, would also like more job exposure and financial classes.

Asked about how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected children in general, Vassallo said that apart from being away from their school peers, children had no one to play with.

Additionally, they missed out on several scholastic outings, and some of them were more exposed to domestic violence at home, as such cases skyrocketed during this turbulent time.

“This has drastically affected their mental health”, she said adding that “for some children the school is their safe haven”.

Although not a mental health provider, the children’s commissioner’s office has come up with several mental health recommendations which is currently working on to be developed into strategies to be implemented in the near future.

One of the recommendations is for children and educators alike to receive mental health first aid training, so that they can help in early identifying those who are struggling with mental health issues.

Asked on how schools and other educational institutions respond to the mental health needs of children during the Covid-19 pandemic, Vassallo said that at the beginning, the pandemic was something that nobody was expecting, and could not have initially been prepared for.

Psycho-social teams did exist to support the mental health of children online, and then the second time schools had to close due to the pandemic, all entities were more prepared for it, and could implement a strategy in place.

“We had a lack of organisation, lack of routine and structure, little to no information, and even those who were not comfortable turning on the camera during online sessions. All this adds pressure and stress, and children have mentioned this to us,” Vassallo said, adding that there was also lack of digital skills in certain cases, where students did not know how to access education online.

Another challenging aspect was the fact that younger children were online, making it more difficult to engage, increasing their pressure and stress, she said.

Asked if the pandemic opened children up to talk about problems they are experiencing more often, Vassallo said that children spoke a lot during focus groups specific to Covid19, due to more awareness, as well as everyone passing through the same experience in different ways.

“Sometimes, there is a bit of a stigma around getting help for mental health, so children did mention the need for guidance teachers and youth workers to approach children to see if they are okay, adopting an outreach approach,” Vassallo said.

She said that while they encourage children to seek help when they need it, they might worry they would be judged.

“The fear of judgement often applies in mental health; even social media impacts their self-esteem. These are many aspects which still exist,” she continued.

Vassallo was asked how children who are experiencing grief or loss related to the pandemic could be helped, where she identified that a child experiencing a pandemic is a different experience to that of an adult, impacting their youth.

She said that the pandemic impacted children’s relationships and friendships, learning and socialization skills, isolation, and their academics. Vassallo added that some had lost relatives due to the disease, and some parents lost their jobs.

“We need to listen to children telling us their realities and be proactive when talking about this grief. We also need to not be ashamed of feeling grief, and that it is normal,” Vassallo said.

When asked if children today are suffering more from mental health problems than children in the past, Vassallo said that there are more factors impacting life nowadays than before, however, the past generation also did not have what we have nowadays.

“It is about awareness, the fact that we are aware of all these things which could impact our mental health, but there is the need of even more awareness to protect our children,” she said.

Vassallo said that there are certain conditions which are genetic as well as external factors which cause stress, however, it is important for every stakeholder who is involved with working with children, work together for the same aim, to provide support.

Does this awareness mean that mental health issues have become an "excuse" everyone mentions each time something is not going well? Vassallo said that this stigma must be reduced, and certain words should not be used loosely.

“Awareness is never enough, and we need to focus on prevention too. There are still people who refer to the mental hospital in degrading words. We should not use words loosely so as to not bring someone down,” she said.

Asked if too much awareness is creating the opposite effect: that children are now being pampered too much, Vassallo said that this is not the case, but could be a case of a lack of discipline by parents towards their children.

“They need a positive upbringing and discipline is part of a positive upbringing, to discipline you do not need to be harsh or bring children down, but it is important - upbringing will help when it comes to mental health and it is important for parents to raise their children well,” she said.

Vassallo said that how children are raised impacts their child's life and choices, and parents need to be role models for their children, as well as being present.

“Nowadays, children’s quality time with their parents is reducing. We need to care, and show them that we care,” Vassallo said.

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