"Feel Your Feelings”: Coping Strategies for Children During COVID-19

UNICEF helps young people cope with the burgeoning reality of the COVID-19 pandemic in Indonesia.

Screenshot of the session
27 May 2020

It looked like any other day since the outbreak of COVID-19—except that it wasn’t. As if responding to the ringing of a school bell, some 1,300 youth and adolescents from different parts of Indonesia were dialing into a live Facebook session. The session’s theme: how to cope with the burgeoning reality of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The dominant feelings in the air were anxiety, confusion, fear.

"I am afraid of catching COVID-19," said Ani.

"I've been feeling down lately," said Budi.

"A lot of my friends are stressed now, what can I do to help?" asked Nur.

We know the feeling. The pandemic has seen us all in a state we have never collectively experienced before: a state of stagnation and emptiness, of joylessness and aimlessness. Also of grief and fear, especially for those who have experienced death and illness up-close.

For many young people, the pandemic has also meant school closures, social life at a standstill, being homebound. The sense of routine and structure they have only begun to cultivate is shattered in one fell swoop. Their parents’ mental stress from having to look after them 24/7 while dealing with other hardships—economic distress, job losses, diminishing quality of life—feed into them and vice versa.

The magnitude and abruptness of these changes have far outpaced the average youth’s ability to make sense of, let alone cope with them.

"Many adolescents are trying to deal with intense feelings of isolation and anxiety,” says Tanti Kostaman, a UNICEF Child Protection Officer. “It's important that they understand that these negative feelings are normal and that there are ways to deal with them.”


Navigating the new reality with UNICEF-supported online sessions

The Facebook session was part of a UNICEF-supported series of online sessions to help adolescents navigate this new, uncharted world. A joint programme between UNICEF, Riliv (a social start-up specializing in mental health), and Muhammadiyah (the second largest Islamic organization in the country), the focus was on helping youth identify and cope with symptoms of mental stress and reaching out if they need support.

It was not the only session offered by the programme. There were also meditation sessions—which had proven very popular with the participants—and closed Q&A sessions.

The closed sessions gathered some 50 adolescents and allowed them to share their feelings and concerns more privately. Topics discussed included dealing with the fear of going out and what to do when worries about the pandemic became too overwhelming, and others more sensitive in nature: from avoiding self-harm and dealing with ethnic, gender and sexual discrimination to broaching the topic of mental health in their communities.

Screenshot of the session 2
Some 1,300 adolescents and youth connected to the first session live through Facebook, where they learned practical tips on identifying symptoms and maintaining mental health, and who to contact if they need support

“I did the 10-minute meditation session and felt calmer afterwards.”

Tika, session participant.

Taking care of body and mind: “Feel your feelings”

According to Ratna Yunita, a psychologist and coordinator for psycho-social support at Muhammadiyah, there is too much information available, too many difficult things put before youth every day, even in normal times. Filtering and limiting the time spent on watching the news is key, she said, to maintaining perspective.

Another is helping participants get rid of negative emotions that could drain their own energy and impact others.

"The key to coping is to "feel" your feelings and reach out if you need help.”

Ratna Yunita, psycho-social counsellor at Muhammadiyah.

After the online session, two children contacted Ratna on self-harm. "It's good that they reached out, and were quite open about their concerns,” Ratna said. “This will encourage others to seek help.”

Ratna Yunita
Ratna Yunita, a psychologist and Coordinator for psychosocial support at Muhammadiyah told the group to be wary of spreading misinformation and also to limit the time they spend watching news.

Giving adolescents voice during and beyond the pandemic

As the pandemic rages on with no signs of letting up, the spectre of the emotional long-haul looms high. It will hit many adolescents unprepared as the shock and intense fear of the first few months fade. It might dull motivation and focus as home contracts, school shrinks to the size of the screen, and the world becomes smaller and more sanitized.

To anticipate this stage, UNICEF is planning to use the information gathered during the first live session to develop more sessions, including expanding on

#COVID19Diaries—a platform for youth to share their stories about how the pandemic is affecting their lives and the actions they are taking to fight it through photographs, 1-minute videos, images, drawings or blogs.

"As we move on to this so-called “New Normal,’ we have to step up our efforts in creating a safe harbor for young people. We cannot afford not to.”

Yukari Tsunokake, UNICEF Youth Engagement Officer.

How You Can Help

Thanks to the generous contributions of individual donors, UNICEF has been able to work with dedicated counsellors, psychologists and well-being and mental health professionals across Indonesia to help youth cope with the trauma and uncertainty brought about by the pandemic.

But the challenge is far from over, and the online sessions have to be multiplied and promoted for wider nationwide reach. For this we need your support.

If you want to help relieve the mental health burdens of our adolescents, during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, please consider donating to UNICEF. We very much appreciate your contribution.

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* The names of session participants have been changed to protect their identities.