One thing I am deeply concerned about right now is how best to support our children’s mental health as we start to come out of lockdown but still have to live with the impact that COVID-19 has had on our lives in 2020.
While we are all consumed with the reality of living with social distancing, lockdown, crisis homeschooling and all the other repercussions of COVID-19, one thing that concerns me a lot is our children’s mental health. After participating in a group chat with other parents and some medical professionals as part of a BBC Breakfast interview, I got the opportunity to ask for advice from Dr Nighat Arif, a GP specialising in woman’s health and family planning. My question was simple, how do parent’s support our children’s mental health during the lockdown, and as we start to come out of lockdown?
The impact of lockdown on our children’s mental health is, in my opinion, going to be a long-lasting and huge problem that we will have to support them with for years to come. Our young people had their lives turned upside down. Schools closed, enforced social distancing, not being able to see friends or participate in sporting and social activities. And they have been amazing. But as lockdown starts to ease, and some semblance of ‘normal’ starts up again, how well are placed are we to support our children’s mental health? What more can we do to help them and to try to avoid a mental health problem in the weeks, months and years to come?
Behaviour Changes During Lockdown
As I write this, I am a mom of a 6-year-old, an 8-year-old and a step mum to a 16-year-old. The oldest was meant to do her GCSEs and the youngest was meant to do her SATS. All 3 of them are extremely social and busy with their after school sporting activities. Lockdown cut that short. No. Not short, it cut it dead. I was suddenly landed with three daughters all stuck at home, busting against the confines of confinement, and quite frankly it was a shock to all our systems. I started to notice some issues with their behaviour almost immediately, but as time has gone on it has got significantly more noticeable.
The teen has struggled to come to terms with the fact that she feels robbed of her last days of high school with her friends, unable to take the tests she has spent the last few years studying for and working towards and cut off from interacting with her friends. They don’t even have the distraction of homeschooling because they have finished school. Just because our teens spend so much time on social media talking to and interacting with their friends, doesn’t mean they are accepting of being unable to see their friends in person. 16 is a tough year anyway. From her we’ve had sulking, crying, boredom, the almost physical need to bust out the house to just get out.
The 8 year old is full of emotions anyway. She’ll be 9 years old in July. She’s such a great kid when it comes to homeschool that I haven’t had to fight with her to do school work. However, she has become extremely withdrawn and almost anxious whenever we want to go out for our daily exercises. Just getting her to agree to leave the house is 90% of the battle. We’ve had toddler style tantrums from her, sulking and generally a bad attitude when it comes to giving her instructions. She keeps saying she is ‘not a baby’, and we must ‘stop telling her what to do’. It’s quite frankly exhausting. I think I’m most concerned about her.
The 6-year-old, who turns 7 this month has done literally the bare minimum that she can get away with when it comes to schoolwork. She’s sick of being dominated by her sister and is becoming quite petulant. I can’t blame her really. Of the 3 of them, she was the most social and thrived in a classroom environment, not just the education, but from a social perspective.
How You Can Support Your Children’s Mental Health During Lockdown
Dr Nighat gave me some fantastic advice, and after doing some research, I’ve combined her advice with some other fantastic resources to bring you a comprehensive strategy to support your children’s mental health during lockdown, and their coping skills.
1. Talk to your children
Ask them questions about how they are feeling. Talk to them about what’s going on (at a level appropriate to their age), and allow them to share how they are feeling, what they think is going on. Give them some reassurance about the reasons why we are social distancing and staying away from school and loved ones.
2. Allow children to express their emotions
As adults, we are likely to have ‘irrational’ emotional melt-downs. Days when we just cry over something insignificant. And we are mature enough to process the reality of the situation. Why should we expect kids not to have similar or even more ‘irrational’ emotional melt-downs? The advice is to let them. Allow them to scream into a pillow, or cry in their rooms, or want to run as fast as they can to release their angry frustration. Let them express their emotions.
3. Check your children’s social media and screen time
I am not going to sit here and pretend that my kids have a strict screen time allowance. They don’t. I have to get work done, they have a significant amount of learning done on their screens. There is screen time in abundance at home. However, and this is particularly for teens, we need to keep an eye on their social media. Make sure you know what they are doing online and try to steer them in a positive direction, rather than allow them to go down the rabbit hole of negativity that we know exists online.
Personally I make a point of trying to stay current with what’s going on in their world, who are the influencers they look to, get to know what news they are seeing on Snapchat News (cos they aren’t on Facebook you know?!) Making sure she knows she can always come and share what she’s seeing and exposed to online helps keep that line of communication open.
4. Seek Advice from Charities
There are a number of fantastic charities all sharing advice on this exact issue of children’s mental health. It’s easy to apply the advice to the lockdown situation now. Here are a few I found online:
- WHO (World Health Organization): Mental Health, strengthening our response.
- Thrive Approach: This is an organisation that has been going or 25 years. They offer advice, training and support to parents, schools, carers, local authorities and anyone who is involved in the welfare of children. They come highly recommended whenever I discuss this topic and are also the organisation that my children’s school use.
- The author and artist behind The Gruffalo have created a number of reimagined images from their most popular and love books that depict the issues we’re all currently living in. Thanks to Dr Koyes Ahmed for this tip. Check it out on their Facebook page:
5. Exercise and Fresh Air
We are allowed to exercise outdoors as a family. And we should be doing this. Personally getting my 8-year-old daughter to agree to get dressed to leave the house these days is becoming more and more of an issue. However, as soon as she has been out on a ‘forced’ walk her mood lifts almost instantly. We all need to exercise, get some fresh air and see the outside world.
Obviously this is only applicable if you’re not in a high-risk group or shielding, please take into consideration your own medical situation here. I am not your doctor.
Another great way to get kids motivated to do some exercise is to get them to sign up to virtual activities in order to raise money for charitable causes. My daughter signed up to raise money for Cat’s Protection by participating in their virtual climb of Ben Nevis. Having something to focus her attention on really did motivate her to exercise for a cause close to her heart.
6. Keep your kids socialising virtually
Self-isolating at home is one thing. With the wonders of technology, we can help our kids stay connected with the outside world. Get them zooming with grandparents, doing online quizzes with a friend, or Messenger chats with school friends. It all counts. There are loads of ways for kids to connect and share with loved ones far away.
The teens have this one sussed but sometimes getting them involved in a structured activity like an online quiz can be a nice break from the endless chit chat about what not and how!
7. Art, Baking & Creative Activities
Try to get them to be involved in art or other creative projects. By limiting their screen time, the inevitable, “I’m bored” is likely to be whined or heard at least once an hour! There are a number of different artistic or creative ways to keep kids busy.
My girls were participating in online art classes for a while, and we try to bake once a week at least. Granted, my bonus daughter is mostly in charge of baking, we do still approach the baking as a creative screen-free activity. Our favourites so far are banana muffins and cinnamon rolls.
Both younger girls have also shown a huge interest in gardening, planting seeds, tracking the growth and documenting any changes they see. Their school have approached this as science, but I have been getting them to draw the growth of the sunflower seeds. They love it. I believe it’s a good mental health wellbeing activity, being out in nature, scientifically assessing the growth progress, and artistically drawing what they see. Win Win!
The other week we even spent a whole day as a family building a bug hotel using recycled materials. It’s such a fun activity. Have you made one yet?
The 1st of June also marks the start of The Wildlife Trust’s 30 Day Wild campaign. It’s free to sign up and you can start anytime. We did it last year and the girls are super excited to do it again this year. Check out the Yorkshire
8. Keep A lockdown Journal
This isn’t something we have done yet, but I can see how keeping a journal of your thoughts, feelings, worries and emotions, can be something enormously positive for our children’s mental health wellbeing. Have you tried it?
9. Positive Affirmations
I wrote last week about positive affirmations for mothers, but this is something that can be mentally rewarding for anyone. We sit down and say a prayer of thanks every night as a family. We used to take it in turns to pray each night, but since lockdown, we have changed it up so each member of our family says their part of the prayer, something they are thankful for.
I get that some people are not religious, but positive affirmations is a way of getting everyone in the family to say something they are thankful for. It’s a way of mentally forcing everyone to find something positive to be grateful for. This doesn’t have to be a prayer situation; you can simply take it in turns to say something positive that you are thankful for.
You can download a free Gratitude Jar print out now. Simply click on the link below for the download to start.
10. Me Time & Family Time
A balance between the two. As a mum of kids in different age groups, I recognise that they have different needs. Younger kids have a way of making us think we need to entertain their every waking moment. But really, we should let our kids be bored. Boredom breads creativity. Kids should be given alone time to be with themselves and to play and entertain themselves. We all need some time alone.
In contrast though, teenagers can often spend too much time alone. If anyone was prepared for self-isolation it’s teenagers who hole themselves up in their rooms. Until of course there’s a worldwide pandemic and you tell them that’s what they have to do, then they resent the situation and all they want to do is go out!! Sometimes teenagers need to be coaxed and forced to join the family and come out of their rooms.
Trying to get this balance right: alone time vs family time and interaction is not easy. Just another job for parents to manage in an effort to support their children’s mental health. I can highly recommend a game of UNO!!
Parenting in Lockdown – Like we needed a challenge!
Being responsible for our own mental health is hard enough, but being responsible for supporting our children’s mental health can feel overwhelming at times. All the times.
Unfortunately or fortunately, it depends on your perspective, but none of my three girls are due to go back to school any time soon. This has been hard for them to accept. Add to that summer holiday plans being cancelled as well as other family visits we were looking forward to, we suddenly sit with nothing to look forward to. Nothing to break the monotony of our days until maybe September. Let’s hope something positive comes along. For now I’m extremely grateful for good weather.
I am on a mission to find as many resources, sources of support and advice as I can to help parents support their children’s mental health. Make sure you’re following me on Instagram @momoftwolittlegirls and Facebook as I often share tips and advice on mental health.
What’s your number one concern about the mental health of your children during lockdown? If I can find the answers, or help or support, I will definitely share it.