“Last year, things felt different: it was new; there was a sense of maybe relief from the busy life as we were able to fill time to do things that we otherwise would not have done as a family – lots of cooking, jigsaws and bike rides, ”said mother, Zoe Daniel.
“But there is a feeling now: when will this ever end? And how do you progress, not just as a family, but as an individual through it? ”
Zoe spoke as a panelist with her 14-year-old son Arkie at our In Pursuit of Health seminar on ‘Tips to help families cope during lockdown.’
Over 2000 listeners who logged on would have been able to relate to Zoe’s emotions.
In the seminar’s questions and answers, parents raised concerns about their children’s poor sleep, anxiety, loneliness, grief, too much screen time, and the unique challenges of neurodiverse children.
But Arkie was more positive in her comments.
“Last year was far harder in terms of motivation,” he said. “This lockdown has really improved me in motivating myself and finding ways to go out and be in shape, stay active, even during lockdown.”
Bringing a positive attitude like this is a really important way to build resilience and a reminder that we as parents and caregivers should try to look for the positive rather than the negative. And there are positives.
For example, the Royal Children’s Hospital National Child Health Poll highlights that three-quarters of parents report that their families are getting closer, and nearly half feel more connected to their child since the pandemic.
The results of the recent report on good childhood also show that 85 per cent of 10 to 17 year olds in the UK feel that they have done relatively well during the pandemic.
But while children and adolescents may surprise us with their resilience, we may also miss warning signs of mental health problems.
The Royal Children’s Hospital National Child Health Poll shows that almost half (46 percent) of parents believe that the COVID-19 pandemic has a negative impact on their own mental health, and a third (36 percent) say it affects their child mental health.
International studies also suggest that about one in four adolescents globally experience clinically elevated depressive symptoms, while one in five adolescents experience clinically elevated anxiety symptoms.
“Doctors see an increasing number of children, young people and families experiencing problems perhaps for the first time and appearing without having had a background of stress or mental experiences before. And some have had a reactivation of the problems they have had in the past, ”Professor Lena Sanci, Head of the Department of General Practice at the University of Melbourne, told the seminar.
It is important that rates appear to increase over time and are higher in those areas that experience longer lockdown, suggesting that they are at least partially related to the impact of these restrictions on our youth.
So what are the signs of anxiety and depression in children? At its simplest, any changes from a child’s past behaviors and activities are a potential warning sign.
Children with anxiety may describe feelings of tightness around the chest, difficulty breathing and a heartbeat. They may sleep less well or report other physical symptoms, such as headaches.
They often seem to worry about small things that did not bother them in the past, and above all, they want to avoid things and situations that trigger their anxiety.
Depression in children may not be obvious.
A child may describe a low mood, but symptoms often manifest as irritability. Sleep is poor, either with too much or too little. Warning signs can include reduced activity level, lack of energy and motivation and enjoying things less than usual.
Retire from friends and family and isolate yourself in their rooms. These signs can be easily missed when everyone is at physical distance and family members pursue work and school in different corners of the house, often with closed doors.
Many evidence-based methods for managing anxiety and depression can be used at home and are just as relevant to daily life as they are in therapy environments.
A key principle is the development of consistent and predictable routines that cover schoolwork, sleep, screen use and physical activity. Routines can also incorporate relaxation techniques and mindfulness practices that can improve mood and lower anxiety.
“One of the things we have really lost by prolonged lockdown is our rhythm and structure in life. Every day begins to look the same, ”said pediatrician Anthea Rhodes of the Royal Children’s Hospital and the University of Melbourne at the seminar.
“Often in normal life, that rhythm and structure is what drives us forward. If you can be quite strict about getting up and getting started in a certain way every morning for yourself and your kids, you will see the flow effects the rest of the day. ”
Psychologist and author Dr. Michael Carr-Greg suggested making a schedule for after-school classes, “perhaps with a ‘surprising event’ that gives them something to look forward to.”
Both physical and creative activities as well as play are effective in reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression, while increasing the connection and having fun.
And while we’re on the lookout for kids who have too much ‘screen time’, there are excellent quality apps to support mindfulness for kids and teens found on the RearchOut website.
Improving the connection within families, with peers, school and neighborhood is effective both in reducing loneliness and improving mood, even if the connection needs to be through screens.
Parents should also encourage their children to talk about their feelings, releasing tension and helping others recognize their own feelings.
Parents must also remember that there is an undeniable connection between their and their children’s well-being. A recent study identified that parental stress is the central mediating factor between maternal distress and childhood depression.
“We have now had over 18 months of long-term uncertainty and stress, and it is unprecedented for all of us. It’s really important for parents to realize that the way they might feel is probably normal for an answer to this type of thing. So do not be harsh on yourself, ”said Dr. Rhodes.
“Parents must first” put on their oxygen mask “with good habits around diet, exercise, sleep and connection,” said Dr. Carr-Greg.
“Parents set the emotional tone. Young people are good imitators, and parents need to be pretty optimistic and deliver hope. ”
When these strategies do not work to help your family cope, contact professional support.
A good place to start is your family doctor and / or a psychologist. Discuss any issues with school work with teachers to develop a modified curriculum and ensure that you know where you can access crisis support if necessary.
Lifeline – 13 11 14; Child helpline – 1800 55 1800
More resources for well-being include: Reach out – mental health service for young people and parents with apps and links to other sites Butterfly and Eating disorders Victoria – support for eating disorders; Beyond Blue –information and support for mental health; Headspace – early intervention in mental health for 12-25 year olds; The brave program – online program for the prevention and treatment of childhood and adolescent anxiety.
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