The Child and Confinement in the Pandemic

Lic. Nora Koremblit Vinacur


‘The coronavirus is not so bad’, said a 5-year-old boy, acknowledging that he was with his parents 24 hours a day; they didn't go out to work and they could spend a lot of time being together.

I was finding this experience in many adults in my clinical work, especially at the beginning of quarantine, combined with diverse other feelings. Some are comparable and some are very opposite.

At first the family dynamic was altered. It looked like vacation but gradually it became a strange organization where the family had to invent something that was neither school nor the parents’ jobs. They were together and without extra familiar help.

Children and adolescents encountered the closure of schools and new study devices that sometimes even teachers could not understand how to use. The parents felt judged and observed in the accompaniment of their children.

At this stage a paranoid experience was perceived in adults, both parents and teachers whom the child observed with some astonishment and surprise. The question that arises is whether it will be necessary to return to that climate of haste in which we lived before quarantine and which at first seemed to have disappeared?

How do we describe the links between parents, children, and school?

Something positive was the valorization of the family as an affective group, where different roles were assigned. Children in some cases seem to have accepted this lockdown with less difficulty than adults.

On the other hand, as this continued, educational demands and an increased concern from the adults about their family, economic and health situation began to appear.

It was very important to be able to explain to the children carefully the need for their collaboration and to be able to distribute certain tasks within the house. The explanation of new hygiene habits was essential, as was what was happening outside their homes, preventing them from attending classes and parents from attending their jobs.

Younger children with simple words understood the need to accept these measures. For them, the experience of being together was important, essential. Likewise, virtual contact with grandparents, uncles and aunts, even for short periods of time.

Young children can understand physical disappearance as death. Hence the importance of holding brief encounters of any form possible with their affections from the outside world.

Entering the second quarantine stage, the family landscape was transformed. The adults had to restart their work duties and the younger ones felt less supported by them. Schoolwork began and parents found themselves having to help their children without at certain times having the sufficient tools to help them generating many difficulties in the process.

What can we say about teenagers? More locked up than ever in their rooms, in their nets, with the same generational struggles. Is this situation very different from others experienced by young people? Adolescence is a very complex evolutionary moment, at times chaotic and difficult, even in normal conditions of coexistence. It is a period of great rivalries and clashes with parents and with their own fights in the face of the hard process of growth. However, they are the ones who would be best placed to collaborate with adults in the organization of the house and the care of the younger ones. As stated in another article, ‘Adolescents test the ability of parents to transform’[1].

In this context, it is essential to put together a grid that organizes schedules for tasks and recreation within the family. This may sound a little energetic, but this way children feel more contained. They are the ones who suffer the most during changes, they observe that their parents are nervous and worried and find it very difficult to understand the explanations that parents are offering them.

After these first two stages the third stage begins to take place.  More than forty days of quarantine have passed, and specific features appear during this period.

Moments of great distress is observed in children:  wishing that everything would be back to the way it was before; hopes of reuniting with their friends, grandparents and uncles and aunts.

The psychic processes that take place in adults are not the same as in children. Children are aware of the moods of their parents on whom they depend on physically and psychically.

Clearly it is a very difficult time to maintain from the parents a constant and quiet harmony. Children perceive the discrepancies between the verbal and the nonverbal that parents try to convey to them.

As psychoanalysts we can infer that the pulse of death haunts everyone equally. It is essential to filter the news from the media. It is confusing to try to calm a child who starts with sleep disorders when parents have in the background the TV counting the number of people infected and dead in the world.

Each case is particular, each family is different and each child during this period of time presents new symptomatology. Children will respond in part to the situation that is being lived but also to the re-signifying of previous losses and fears of future losses.

The appearance of new fears or some that seemed to have been overcome and now resurfaced can be observed.  Nightmares and sleep disorders are a way to deposit and process the anguish and distress that they are experiencing during this time. 

Also, the lack of physical activity, especially in the little ones generates greater annoyance and tantrums.
If some recommendations could be given, I consider it essential to lower the level of demand on children. Don't deny them reality. Try to listen to the anger and accompany them as much as possible.

Take this experience within reasonable limits as a life experience that allows each parent to get to know his child in a different way. It is very likely that we will not leave quarantine in the same way that it was entered.

As Octavio Fernandez Moujan said: ‘Every crisis also implies a possibility of change...’[2]

The opportunity to take advantage of this experience will depend on a delicate balance of emotions and psychological resources of all members of the family.

[1] Koremblit de Vinacur, N (2014). 'Parentalities in adolescence in Parentalities'. Transformative Interdependencies Between Parents and Children. Compiled by Eva Rotenberg. APA Journal of Psychoanalysis. Editorial Place.
[2] Fernandez Moujan, O. (1994). Creation as a Treatment. Synthesis of the Life Crisis Model. Buenos Aires: Editorial Paidós.

Translation: Gabrielle Fuller

More articles by:

Star Rating

Current rating: 0.8 (5 ratings)


*You must be logged in with your IPA login to leave a comment.