Should I be more Concerned for my Child’s Mental Health This Time Round? Is This Lockdown worse than last year?
With the latest lockdown feeling endless, talk of more contagious strains and being confined more than ever to our homes with the dark wintry days, is it worse this time round for our children and how can we seek to understand what’s going on their minds?
“Is it worse for children this time round”?
Children are like emotional sponges and they will take their lead from those with whom they feel safe or are most familiar with. It might be that this time around we, as adults with our awareness of the worrying statistics and deepened uncertainly around new strains of the virus are the ones feeling more fearful than our children. In this sense we may unknowingly be communicating this through our language and behaviour, so in order to answer this question it is important that we are mindful of how we respond to and communicate our emotions when reacting to what we hear or see as our children will pick up on our anxiety and internalise this which may result in them feeling wobbly and unsafe. They may not be able to put it into words how they’re feeling, particularly younger children as they may not be consciously aware at this age but we may see it in their behaviour for example: frequent meltdowns/behaviour difficulties, sleep changes, increased clinginess, bouts of feeling unwell (stomach aches or headaches for example)
“Should I be doing something different with my children this time”?
Not necessarily, as always we need to be communicating in an age-appropriate way what everyone needs to do to stay safe as we have done for the last 12 months - children need boundaries as they feel more contained within the guidance of adults, they feel safer when this is consistent so reiterating the same messages in an empathic and playful manner should help them with their understanding. We need to filter out any information that isn’t appropriate or necessary for them to know. (e.g. do young children need to know that there are more contagious strains and that the R number is up more than last March?)
Above all we need to be creating a sense of hope for these children and keep them looking ahead. During the first lockdown we all thought life would be back to normal by September, so children may be feeling a little disheartened and confused as to why this hasn’t happened. Their worries may be less about the virus itself and more about when they can return to seeing friends or having birthday parties. So we need to be communicating that we are all working together to do our bit and we need to be praising them for being part of that.
When we feel like things are not under our control we tend to lose hope, become apathetic and give up but when we focus on what we CAN change its give us a sense of purpose, for children they feel important, having a sense of efficacy in the world, so helping them to keep a positive frame of mind helps them build their resilience and develop a sense of control.
Remember too that children are very much in the moment – it’s a wonderful skill that sadly we all lose as we grow older and our knowledge of the world and people in it change. Its quite likely that we are the ones we need to focus on when it comes to worrying about our children’s future because its likely they don’t have the same degree of anxiety because they take each day as it comes. The biggest strain for them is not seeing peers but it will not impact their development provided we can fill in those gaps, if we can play with them, be with them, be silly with them and enjoy them these times will hopefully just be a series of photos to look back on and some reminders of some great family times.
My child is hearing all sorts of scary things from other people at school what can I do?
Firstly, if your child comes out with something they’ve heard that could potentially be impacting them in a negative way ask what their understanding is of this and what they think that means for them or people around them. With younger children in particular their understanding of a concept could be very different to your understanding so check this out with them before rushing in to reassure them.
One way of doing this is to help them to create a narrative by using story telling - asking them what they think it means, how they and how various people might be feeling if that were to be true and what might be the best way to move forward.
This will not only give us an insight into their world and help us gain an understanding from their perspective but also open up the opportunity to empathise with them if they’re feeling worried. Remember it’s OK for them to feel worried or scared, our aim here isn’t get rid of these feelings for them it’s to support them through.
Once we have a clear picture of their perspective we can use it to help co-create a new or more accurate story if their understanding is inaccurate and is causing them distress.
Another way of doing this is to find opportunities in play or storybooks with themes about hardship and fear and working together as a team etc to help them internalise this and feel a sense of control over their lives. Pixar are great for this – Inside Out is a particular favourite in our House!
Remember despite the very challenging circumstances we all are in we can also create opportunities to help our children learn resilience, empathy and kindness through these times.