‘How Are The Little Ones Doing?’ – Prioritising Children’s Mental Health As They Return To School
So, the children are going back to school from March 8th, will they be ‘skipping & hopping’ back in or ‘tip toeing’ in reluctantly? It seemed to me as a former Nursery Nurse, Mum and Grandma it might be a good time to ask “How are the little ones doing?” Mental health problems in children are common. About one in ten children aged between five and sixteen are diagnosed with a problem every year.
As adults, we act as role models for our children, even when we don’t realise they’re watching! They may well have noticed our anxieties, maybe overheard us talking about our worries, job security, loss of income, or concerns about the health risks to family like parents/grandparents. They’re well versed in the measures we have to take just to keep ourselves and others safe, face masks, washing their hands to a “Row, Row, Row your boat” . The separation from friends at school, clubs, and their neighbourhood can be hard.
Children & young adults, all at crucial stages of their intellectual, social and emotional development, have had a huge part of their lives turned upside down. Missing their friends, a routine and familiarity which for many of us is much needed to keep us feeling in control and safe. Some have enjoyed being off school, while others have really struggled with isolation & loneliness.
They may be worried about how their future looks, due to exams being cancelled /rescheduled, uncertain grades, college and university places being in jeopardy. They have adjusted to new social distancing restrictions, changes to their learning environments and unprecedented levels of anxiety amongst their peers, parents, family and teachers. The long list of ‘never gonna happen’ just gets longer and harder to accept. Cancelled holidays, postponed birthday celebrations, proms & graduations, all important milestones in their world.
Depression can affect children in a variety of ways. A child may seem particularly worried, anxious, tearful or moody with no apparent reason. They may appear sad, irritable, or ‘down’. No longer enjoying activities they previously looked forward to. Sleep patterns can alter, sleeping more or less. Eating patterns may also change, loss of appetite or increased eating often go hand in hand when experiencing anxiety. No single change in their behaviour means that there is cause for concern but when there are several changes that you notice and are present for a prolonged period of time, it may be time to seek help.
Seize the opportunity when it presents itself or create a time and place to give children the opportunity to talk. If they can talk uninterrupted and feel safe to confide, won’t be judged then it will give us the knowledge to know where to begin to start in helping them. Support & guide them through the process and work through their emotions in a constructive, realistic and age appropriate way. Be honest and keep it simple.
Regularly ask how they’re doing so they get used to talking about their feelings and they know there’s always someone to listen if they want to. Be mindful that sometime they may pull away again when they feel they’ve left themselves feeling vulnerable by ‘letting go’ and talking to you. Pay attention to their emotions, moods and behaviour, help them understand what they’re feeling, why and that it’s ok to have these feelings.
Recognise how difficult this is for them; reassure them that the pandemic will not last forever, it will pass and that you will get through this together.
Try and stick to a routine as much as is possible, children feel safe when they know ‘where they’re at’ regular exercise, a healthy balanced diet and a good sleep routine.
Make time for some fun, its great Therapy! Organise a Movie night at home or in the garden with the whole family. Turn the lights off, bring all your cushions and duvets downstairs, and tuck into a fun movie, popcorn essential!
Get baking! Children love baking, and the internet is packed full of fun bakes that you can try with your kids.
My 5 year old Grandson particularly enjoyed disco night with Mum & Dad!
One thing we can do is go outside, the fresh air and a change of scene works wonders. Bike rides, a walk, make it fun for the younger ones by turning it into a game of spotting specific things. How about learning yoga together!
So the long and the short of it is, not much gets passed the young ones, they will doubtless be effected by the almost year long events, they’ve seen and heard so much, some of it will have touched them personally. But I believe that through the limitless acts of kindness, compassion, bravery and love they will have seen, from family, friends & the stories on the TV like Captain Tom they will be enriched by seeing that there is far more ‘good’ in the world than ‘bad’.
We asked a few of the younger family members of the team at 1PS what their thoughts were on the Pandemic
Arthur age 5
Arthur likes home schooling because of the things he learns, but he is looking forward to going back to school so he can see his friend Jonah. His favourite subject is role play. He emphatically misses his school friends! He doesn’t worry about anything, which is good. Because of coronavirus he understands that they can’t have visitors at the moment. He knows that it is because of germs we have to wear masks. His favourite thing to do is cuddle his Milkos, his favourite toy. He wishes he could have a drone though!
Bailey age 5
Bailey enjoys homeschooling, but does miss his friends, he has been able to see them on a class zoom call, where he was rather impressed with the button that, when pressed, indicated to his new Teacher that he had his hand up to speak. He’s looking forward to returning soon. His favourite subject is maths. He understands that we have to wear face marks because of the virus and that “it stops us from making each other ill”.
Aggie Age 4
Aggie likes going to preschool, and enjoys crafting. She misses her friends. Her favourite thing to do is play with Mummy, and she says that one of the best things about this past year is being able to spend time with Mummy and Daddy. She understands that because of coronavirus we have to wear masks, but wishes it would go away because they can’t see anyone at the moment and she wishes she could see Nanna and Grandad. She doesn’t worry about anything, but one of the kids at preschool did hit her with a stick!