They are easy to miss, but there are several signs a child might be going through a hard time.
Dr Elena Andrioti, a psychologist in Dubai who has experience working with children and families, points out “ruminating thoughts” as one common example. “That’s when a child is constantly focusing on or asking questions about the same topic,” she explains.
Some other changes in behaviour that might clue you in that a child is going through something include withdrawing or isolating themselves, tics, bedwetting or changes in appetite, she says.
The pandemic may have spurred a rise in such issues. Over the year, several studies have looked into the adverse effect Covid-19 has had on our mental health – and children are affected, too.
“There has been a rise in mental health issues among children, especially young children, around the world,” says Andrioti. “After all, older children have already learnt how to connect with others and can even keep in touch via social media. But those below the age of 10 are still developing these skills.
“A lot of younger children don’t really know how to have birthday parties or playdates. A lot of their understanding of school is happening online and they’re already well-versed with terms like ‘Covid bubbles’ and ‘PCR tests’. We have seen a lot of anxieties, phobias, mood disorders, anger and tantrums cropping up.”
Andrioti, who is a mother of three, noticed some of these issues with her own children. This, coupled with the fact she had more free time during the pandemic, led to the launch of Dr Feelings, a UAE mental health brand that “gives parents the tools to help their children thrive” – complete with a cartoon character named, you guessed it, Dr Feelings.
In June, the brand launched its first product, the Daily Routine Cards. Available in Arabic and English, the colour-coded cards are divided into morning, afternoon and evening slots, and are designed to enable children between the ages of 3 and 7 to develop a daily routine while fostering social development, creativity and confidence.
“They have recommendations like ‘make your bed’, ‘have breakfast’, even ‘morning hugs and cuddles’. It specifies the difference between structured play – those with puzzles, which are good for cognitive development – and free play. The whole point is to allow children to find creative ways to use them,” says Andrioti. “Routine is one of the biggest issues parents have, and I’m always recommending it for children.”
UAE resident Sara Sukkar, who purchased the cards, agrees. “Routine is a topic that comes up a lot among parents these days. They especially struggle with introducing it, making it fun. So when I saw that there was a way to make a game out of it, I went for it.” While her daughter, at six months, is too young for the cards, she says they made a unique gift idea for other parents.
Meanwhile, Zeinab Jaber, a blogger and tutor, bought the cards for her son and daughter and says they love them. “It’s easy to play with them, and the illustrations add to the fun. I’m from Lebanon, and we thought it was amazing that they were available in Arabic as well, as it was a great way to get them to practise their Arabic language skills.”
A second product – the Worry Not Box – is already in the works and scheduled to be released this month. It features 30 cards containing coping mechanisms for children who have anxiety, with visual cues on one side and explanations for parents on the other.
“I want to normalise having negative emotions,” says Andrioti. “Children these days are worried and frustrated sometimes and they need to know how to label it correctly.”
Even more important, it allows for plenty of bonding opportunities between parents and children.
“Some of the cards are yoga positions, breathing techniques, even dancing that can be done together. By doing the activities along with your children, you become a comfort zone for them when they need you most."
There are more plans for Dr Feelings in the future, including a book, a podcast with specialist advice for parents, a knitted doll of Dr Feelings and other toys.
“I want to launch more products in the future, for different age groups. Those that deal with self-esteem, confidence, sleep, eating disorders, puberty, even divorce," says Andrioti. "There will be some big topics, and we will tackle them all.”