Mental Health of Children in Light of the Covid-19 Pandemic: Why it’s Important to Check-in

Preeti Bhati
Published on
June 17, 2021

For most of us, 2020 was not an easy time. The COVID–19 pandemic upended our sense of normality. While adults have had a lot on their plates throughout the past year, children have been contending with their share of struggles too. Navigating remote learning has proven daunting for younger learners because they're used to a play-based environment. For older students, their frustration usually stems from not being able to gather with friends. Even collaborating with their peers to complete group projects has been limited to the parameters of a screen. On top of everything else, many families have grappled with the loss of jobs and loved ones due to COVID–19. These adversities have put a mental strain on children, too.

What Is Mental Health?

The last few years have seen an increasing awareness of the importance of mental health. As people find themselves more isolated due to the pandemic, they want to make it a priority. Yet the concept can be difficult to pin down. The World Health Organisation (WHO) describes it as more than just the absence of mental illness. In 2004, the WHO defined mental health as "a state of well-being" in which people can realise their abilities, cope with the normal stresses of life, perform purposeful, productive work and make contributions to the community. Essentially, "mental health" relates to our emotional, psychological and social well-being, all of which affect how we act, think and feel.

How Does Mental Health Affect Children?

Stressors in three key areas can impact the mental health of children:

  1. Domestic issues — family strife, divorce, death of a family member
  2. World events — terrorism, political upheavals, war, climate change
  3. School — peer pressure, bullying, exams, transitioning from primary school to secondary school, etc.

Mental health problems can be challenging to diagnose in younger children. However, like older children and adults, they can experience anxiety, depression, behaviour disorders, attention deficit disorders and even post-traumatic stress disorder.

Image Credit: Voices of Youth (Illustration by Ellie Zahedi for My Mind Our Humanity Campaign)

How Has COVID-19 Impacted the Mental Health of Children?

Children face a myriad of changes and challenges amid the pandemic.

  • School closures and the switch to remote learning
  • Wearing face coverings
  • Not being able to play and socialise in person with friends as they did pre-COVID–19
  • Disruptions to their regular schedule
  • Inability to participate in their favourite team sports
  • Inability to participate in other events and activities, such as singing classes and singing in public (which have been shut down in Singapore)
  • Adhering to social distancing guidelines
  • Travel restrictions preventing them from visiting family members abroad or for expats from visiting their home countries

According to research published by the United States Institutes of Mental Health, the current crisis may be taking an even greater toll on children than adults. Children can suffer long-term psychological effects due to stress and trauma. Younger children may experience anxiety, sleep problems and loss of appetite. They may also be more prone to crying, irritability and clingy behaviour.

Older children may have poor concentration, display "acting out" behaviours or withdraw into screen time as a way to cope. Teens may become more likely to use drugs or alcohol.

At this time, especially, it's essential for parents to provide a listening ear to their children. A lack of support can take a toll on the mental health of children.

Tips for Parents to Help Their Children Deal with Mental Health Issues

The World Health Organisation and other leading government and health organisations around the world provide tips for parents to promote the mental well-being of children. Here are some key tips to note:

  • Help your child stay connected to family and friends through phone calls, video chats and sending cards.
Video calls are a great way to stay in touch with family and friends


  • Have a positive attitude when talking about social distancing and wearing masks. Explain to your child that he/she is a valued member of the family and community and is helping others stay safe.

  • Watch for behaviour changes that could signal a problem.

  • Talk about the Covid pandemic in a way your child can understand.

  • Establish routines to provide a sense of structure.

  • Model healthy behaviours such as eating well and getting enough sleep and exercise.

  • Reassure your child that it's normal to feel sad and fearful at times. Talk about healthy ways to express emotions.

  • Participate in meaningful activities together (reading, cooking, creating artwork).

  • Limit how much COVID-19 news coverage your children watch, as this could exacerbate fears.

How Schools Can Help

Fortunately, schools can foster a sense of security during an otherwise chaotic time. Maintaining open communication with students and parents keeps everyone as connected and informed as possible. Teachers can talk about the importance of physical and mental health and take time to discuss students' concerns.

Teachers play a vital role in enhancing the mental health of children. Learning effective communication, socio-emotional and problem-solving skills build mental and emotional resilience. Creating a warm classroom atmosphere in which children feel accepted and valued encourages them to be confident and independent.

How OWIS Helps Students Cope

At OWIS, we provide a nurturing environment to help students cope with the pandemic and other stressors. Teachers and staff check in regularly with students for one-on-one talks. Our students participate in mindfulness activities to help them regulate their behaviour and focus on lessons. For our Early childhood students, mindfulness sessions consist of age-appropriate, play-based activities. For older children, "mindfulness breaks'' allow them to regroup and reflect on their feelings.

Our music and art programmes provide creative outlets for stress and anxiety, while PE classes and sports allow children to engage in regular physical activity, which boosts physical and mental well-being. We provide pastoral care for our secondary students, which gives them a safe place to talk about their concerns, receive encouragement, and learn healthy ways to manage stress.

Our annual Early Childhood production in December 2020 continued in small groups with all safety guidelines in place; it was video-recorded and shared across the school and with parents

We also connect regularly with parents to talk about their concerns and keep the lines of communication open. It’s important for parents to be aware of any potential problems related to the mental health of their children. It may seem trivial but how children are affected depends on their age, resilience levels and past experiences. Even when they seem to be doing well, it's helpful for parents to listen to their fears and provide plenty of support. 

Like many adults, some children have become "pandemic weary" and may not always have a positive attitude about following COVID-19 safety protocols. I like to remind parents that acknowledgement and praise go a long way in motivating children to practice social distancing, hygiene routines and the like. Given that school-age children (unlike employees working remotely) have returned to full-time, on-site learning, they are likely to deal with these precautionary measures more than their parents do. Praising children for being mindful of the community and caring for their own health adds to their purpose and builds in them a sense that they contribute to their own mental well-being and that of those around them.

To learn more about how we help children promote their mental health at OWIS, contact us to schedule a virtual visit.

About Author

Preeti Bhati

Head of Additional Needs

Originally from India, Preeti Bhati has lived in Singapore for over a decade. She holds a Post-Graduate Diploma in Special Education and Master’s Degrees in Guidance and Counselling and Education. For over 16 years, Preeti has worked as a teacher, remedial tutor, educational therapist and educational consultant. She also has extensive experience as an early intervention and learning support specialist.

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