As the current pandemic continues to have a hold on countries across the world, it becomes increasingly more difficult to estimate when life will return to normal. As weeks of self-isolation turn into months and with schools and nurseries doors remaining closed, many have begun to wonder how this will impact children’s mental health.
The challenges they face
Recent reports suggest that children have begun experiencing higher levels of anxiety since the onset of the pandemic, with one mental health app for children seeing a surge of 168%, with demand only increasing.
Bombarded by news stories on social media, distanced from their family and friends, their education on hold, and daily routines re-imagined, it is no wonder that children are feeling emotionally jaded. For parents the biggest concern is whether social distancing measures are hindering their child’s emotional development with loneliness a key fear.
Younger children may struggle to understand why they can’t see their friends and go outside, whilst older children may become more reclusive to control their emotions. All of this can be a lot for a child to process, particularly as many adults too are uncertain themselves. It is suggested that children as young as 2 years old are aware of the changes happening around them, although they may not understand why.
Children from more vulnerable families such as those who face unemployment, financial instability and concerns about affording food are likely to suffer more. Socially, psychologically and academically these children will feel the biggest impact. So, how can parents support their children during these unprecedented times?
Communication is key
The underlying cause of the increase in anxiety has been linked to a lack of understanding and inability to process these major changes in their lives. Communication around the reality of what’s going on in the world right now is key. Even though parents may feel compelled to protect their children by sugarcoating the facts, psychologists advise parents to be honest in their approach. Without this, children can attempt to fill in gaps of knowledge and try to make sense of the situation on their own, which can lead to increased fears and misinformation. Making sure children have a well-rounded understanding and sense of the situation will help ease uncertainty and confusion.
Alongside this, children are being encouraged to reflect on their feelings during this period to help them cope and process their emotions. There are many ways children can do this, some may choose to draw how they feel, some keep diaries and some may just need someone to talk to.
Providing parents with additional support
Many parents may also be taking on the role of therapist and teacher in the coming weeks. However, help is at hand, with online resources for mental health on the rise and Kooth, YoungMinds and Brave, all offering free online mental health support for young people. Wellbeing coaches are also taking themselves to video sites to help support children through these difficult times. One example is Jennifer Taylor, a wellbeing coach from Aberdeenshire who alongside her 9-year-old daughter, offers a variety of classes on Zoom, such as meditation, LEGO mindfulness and yoga.
It’s important not to forget that although this time of change will no doubt have an impact on children physiologically and emotionally that this for many will be short-term until we return to some sort of normality. What we know about children is that they are extremely resilient and just as quickly as the world has changed as a result of this pandemic, many children too, will bounce back just as fast.