The events of 2020 have had an effect on the best of us, for better or for worse. But for our little ones who don’t quite understand what’s happening, it’s been a confusing experience to say the least.
We may struggle as adults to fully grasp the ins and outs of a pandemic, not least because we’ve never experienced one before. But the real challenge lies with parents trying to support their children who, as we know, rely almost entirely on routine in order to feel secure.
Think about it this way: without warning, our children have been told that they can’t hug their friends and family, that school is suddenly out of bounds, and that mum and dad have essentially stopped going out to work. This is a serious shake-up to their normal day-to-day routine, one which their emotional security depends on.
The team at Toys for a Pound asked a few experts in their field to share their views on lockdown and the real effect it could be having on our children, with tips on how to minimise any negative experiences for them.
Dr Sarah Mundy is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist specialising in child and family work. She outlined some of the main effects that the lockdown has had on school-age children.
- Loss of relationships with teachers and other professionals (including mental health support and social care)
- Social isolation
- Frightening news coverage
- Confusion around rules, distancing and masks
- Worry about the future – exams, universities etc.
- Potential mistrust in others – government professionals
- Loss of routine
- Lack of control
- Stress around school work
- Worry about losing loved ones
- Specific fears about germs/going out etc.
- Increased parental stress and lack of availability
She said: “Children may show increased anxiety through increased nightmares, showing a range of emotions (sadness, agitation, numbness), becoming clingy and anxious to caregivers, becoming more withdrawn, regressing to earlier coping strategies, becoming low and withdrawn. There are also concerns that those who are already vulnerable to mental health problems may show increased difficulties – e.g. OCD, social anxiety, health anxiety, being worried about physical appearance, already feeling low and isolated, addiction to screens etc.
“From my clinical work, it seems as though teenagers are struggling particularly with the changes. This is not surprising given they focus so much on peer groups as opposed to family at that stage. However, there seems to be an impact across all age groups. Interestingly, for those children who are adopted and are still quite young, I have seen some benefits of that extra time with their parents – perhaps the “nesting period” they missed when they were younger and when they were first adopted.”
Danger signs and how to help
When asked what signs to look for regarding poor child’s mental health, she said: “What is key is to notice significant changes in their behaviour and emotions – this is relevant to all ages but may show differently depending upon the child and their age.
“For example struggling to sleep, a change in appetite, a change in mood – such as becoming withdrawn or agitated, losing interest in socialising, seeming more fearful (e.g. about going out in case there are germs), being more concerned about their appearance, struggling with school work, seeming disconnected, finding it hard to trust others or accept support.”
PhDr Ivana Poku, who works as a motherhood coach and NLP practitioner, added: “A child being quieter than usual and not themselves is a sign. If you are unsure, it is always best to talk to a professional rather than potentially neglect something that can potentially lead to severe mental health issues.
“Make sure to talk to your children about mental health so they are used to the subject. We cannot expect our children to talk to us about mental health if we don’t talk about it in the first place.
“I also recommend parents showing their vulnerable side to their children. For instance, they can share with their children what they are scared of by saying “I am scared that something happens to you” and then ask them: “What are you scared of?”
Activities to promote wellness
Dr Mundy said there are some activities which can help keep your children in a good state of mind, such as:
- sensory activities
- outdoor play and learning
- Joint (non-competitive) activities
- Play-based learning
- things that focus on regulating the body
- Talking about feelings and experiences
Take a look at some summer toy ideas which are ideal for outdoors, from Toys for aPound.