In Covid times, children inherit stress from parents

By Phan Duong   November 7, 2021 | 05:31 am PT
The economic crunch caused by the pandemic has stressed out many parents and their reactions are affecting the most vulnerable members of their household: their children.

In the last three months, the National Hotline 111 on Child Protection has recorded a record number of calls for help. There were 48,200 calls in July, 50,800 in August, and 46,800 in September, nearly double the number of calls in the previous months.

The calls revolved around topics like healthcare, psychological support, mental health of children and advice related to Covid-19.

"Especially in the parents-children relationship, we have recorded an increase in complaints about parents yelling, beating and over-controlling their children," said Le Thi Thao, deputy head of the national hotline service.

Reports from pandemic-hit countries from the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) also show that economic pressures arising out of the current situation of travel restrictions and social distancing has led to increased violence, especially against women and girls. In many countries, domestic violence has increased from 30 percent to 300 percent.

More than a month ago, at 2 a.m., the National Hotline 111 on Child Protection received a call from a resident in Hanoi’s Dong Anh District, informing that a neighboring family was abusing a child, a third-grader who had been crying for a long time.

Pham Viet Hong, the operator on duty, immediately contacted the regional police. After about 40 minutes, the police announced that "the house was quiet, people have turned off the light to sleep."

Pham Viet Hong talks with a person on the phone on Oct. 21, 2021, in Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/Phan Duong

Pham Viet Hong talks with a person on the phone on Oct. 21, 2021, in Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/Phan Duong

The next day, Hong contacted the local authorities, who later talked with the family. The parents explained that due to the Covid-19 economic crunch, they had to stay at home and could not make money, so the husband and wife were in conflict. When they found that their daughter had not finished her homework, they scolded her.

"They said they only threatened her and did not hit her. She became afraid and cried," Hong said.

The parents have promised that they would not threaten their daughter again. And at the same time, local authorities would keep their watchful eyes on them.

Frustration during the pandemic also drove a mother in the capital city’s Thanh Xuan District to kick her two children, nine and six years old, out of their house.

"The two children walked to the Covid-19 checkpoint at the mouth of the alley, but they had to return because the guards did not let them pass. The mother continued to chase them away. This time, they borrowed a phone from a guard to call their father," Hong recalled.

The parents had divorced a few years ago and were now married to different people. After receiving the call from his daughters, the father, living in Da Nang, called the hotline for help.

When the local authorities came, the mother said that the children’s stepfather and she still took good care of them. What happened was just "words spoken in anger."

However, the girls’ father did not accept the explanation. Finally, the mother admitted that she had been angry and had chased her daughters and kicked them out.

She said the pressure of taking care of a newborn had made her ignore the two older children and she was more frustrated because she did not receive money from her ex-husband.

Families are normally a safe haven for children, but with schools closed for a long time, some homes have sites of child abuse. Many children are subjected to verbal and physical violence.

Recently, the national hotline received a call for help from a woman in the central province of Thanh Hoa. She was the aunt of an 11-year-old girl whose mother had run away from her abusive husband.

The husband, having lost his job and taking to drink, vented his anger on the daughter.

"The girl was studying in my house when her father came in suddenly and slapped her in the face and head," said the aunt, who had already asked local authorities to intervene in vain.

The hotline’s operator was now working with local authorities to intervene and protect the child.

The complications of the fourth Covid-19 outbreak in the country have pushed the unemployment rate to its highest level in nearly two years, affecting millions of Vietnamese families.

Of more than 69,000 workers surveyed by VnExpress and the Private Economic Development Research Board (IV Board) in August, up to 50 percent did not have enough money to live even for one month.

"The economic catastrophe caused by the pandemic has stressed out many parents, and children are the ultimate bearers of pressure (from their parents)," Thao said.

Staying at home for too long can pose negative effects on childrens health. Illustration photo by Phan Duong

Staying at home for too long can pose negative effects on children's health. Illustration photo by Phan Duong

Don’t take it out on kids

Psychologist Hong Huong, working with the Vietnam Association for Protection of Children's Rights, said that the real cause of child abuse is that adults have never seriously learned to manage their mental issues. The pandemic has become a hotbed for them to rant against their children, who are more vulnerable.

"There is nothing easier than ‘littering’ their ‘mental’ waste on their children, especially young ones. They do not know how to resist, they are completely defeated," the psychologist said. She found that in most cases, after their rants, parents do feel regret and want to make up to their children, but this gets repeated again.

During the pandemic, Hanoi psychologist Kim Thanh has also received many calls from parents and children.

"One day I received three calls from three crying mothers, saying they wanted to die and were too tired and helpless because their children were disobedient," the psychologist said.

Amidst tensions generated by the pandemic, small things like a child disobeying can worsen adults’ negative feelings and emotions; then they just want to beat their children and even destroy themselves.

"In case they get angry, parents need to immediately drink a glass of water to calm down, take a deep breath to regulate the air in their body and switch to doing other things they like in order to redirect their thoughts. They should teach or deal with their children only when they are calm," Thanh said.

Psychologist Huong said that in order to minimize parents’ ranting, the community should equip adults with skills to properly care for and protect their children.

She said having a child meant that parents need to provide them with physical and mental nourishment. Childhood emotional trauma can cause distortions in thinking and lifestyle when people are grown up, and there are injuries that cannot be healed, she warned.

She said parents should practice emotional management with the 25/60 principle. This means that they should take a "quiet moment" after every 25 minutes to see what actions they are truly doing; spend another moment after every 60 minutes to check on their own feelings. If they are upset or angry, they should take rest immediately. They should find ways to release their emotions so they do not negatively affect others.

Huong said: "This method is 90 percent effective and sustainable not only in dealing with children but also in other relationships, but it needs serious practice."

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