With coronavirus cases hitting 45,140 in the UK yesterday, parenting expert Kirsty Ketley shares her advice for parents worried about their children’s mental health amid the pandemic
There is no denying that the last 19 months have had a negative impact on everyone, not least our children.
A recent investigation by the Telegraph found that the number of children attending A&E with ‘serious’ mental health issues, including self-harm and suicidal feelings, has increased by more than 50 percent since the beginning of the pandemic, and through my chats with parents at the school gates and through my work as a parent consultant, it is all age groups who have struggled or continue to do so.
Children of all ages thrive on what they learn in their day-to-day lives and by having routine. Lockdown forced children into social isolation and caused their routine to change or disappear completely, so it’s no wonder so many have developed poor mental health.
In younger children, particularly those born just before or during the first lockdown, the lack of socialisation has been a big issue, along with heightened separation anxiety. While long-term this is unlikely to have an effect, given the right support, short-term it very much is – there are now opportunities to be sociable again, but some are finding it overwhelming.
For school children, the lockdowns were really tough. Not only were they away from their peers, but they were learning outside of the classroom and the loss of learning has caused some problems with reluctance to attend school and self-esteem issues. School has become harder for some, even though the restrictions that were in place are now gone.
The return to some sort of normality in school has been welcomed by most though. My own eight-year-old was over the moon to hear that there was a return to eating in the dinner hall and assemblies would resume, along with school clubs – small things to us, but a huge part of the school life experience for most children.
The return to routine and purpose may have hugely helped many, but the lasting effects will continue for years to come. According to the charity Young Minds, one in three mental health problems in adulthood are directly connected to an adverse childhood experience.
It’s not just the children who have struggled during the course of the pandemic, though. Parents have too, with many telling me how exhausted they are feeling, myself included.
Parents have been left to fend for themselves because the support networks that were once in place have gone – they’ve given birth alone, they’ve had to juggle homeschool while working from home, and they have the worry of it happening again. Parents have also felt isolated and have struggled with their own mental health.
All on top of the usual parent admin and the constant worry about the impact of Covid on our children, which for those who have a child who’s struggling, is really hard to be on the receiving end of, and to know how best to help.
Keeping the lines of communication open, showing some empathy, listening to them and validating their feelings will all help, though. You want them to know that you are there for them without judgement. Reaching out for help where needed is important, too, and there are several organisations that can help, including Mind, NHS Every Mind Matters and Young Minds.
The pandemic is far from over. It is one heck of a ride – like being on a rollercoaster, and I am sure that I am not alone in wanting to get off.