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Play expert Dr Amanda Gummer took part in a workingmums.co.uk webinar on children’s mental health during lockdown yesterday.
The coronavirus pandemic is causing a huge amount of stress. In addition to worries about physical health and jobs, parents are also likely to be concerned about the mental health impact on their children, not just of worries about coronavirus, but also the long-term effect of lockdown.
Workingmums.co.uk held a webinar yesterday with child psychologist and play expert Dr Amanda Gummer, Founder and CEO of Good Play Guide, covering a range of topics which are worrying parents.
Dr Gummer said the main challenges for children centred around missing friends and wider family and the lack of interpersonal interaction which is very important for their social and emotional development; the strain of being with the same people in close proximity 24/7 for weeks on end; and losing their regular routine.
So what are the main stress points? Working parents are often stressed, said Dr Gummer, because their children want their attention and they cannot give them all their time. Parents are anxious generally about job security, money and health, something children pick up on. Another common stressor was that domestic chores may have increased because everyone is at home.
Asked what parents should look out for, Dr Gummer listed shortness of temper; increased sibling rivalries; and signs their children may be regressing, such as playing with toys they used to play with years ago. While this is a normal coping strategy, if it goes on too long it may be a cause of concern. She added that it is important to talk to children about their anxieties and to validate it as being normal, to answer their questions simply and honestly, but not to overexplain things.
When it comes to the long-term mental health issues associated with lockdown, Dr Gummer said that it is important to offset these by using this time to create family ‘traditions’, such as new favourite films or recipes, as these help children’s social and emotional well being. Encouraging children to feel valued by getting them more involved in tasks around the house, such as cooking or doing the washing boosts their self confidence as does listening to their opinions on things that affect the family, she said.
Dr Gummer also addressed questions from readers, including:
How to address fears about coronavirus in very young children: she suggested that, in addition to talking about their fears and keeping things simple, that parents find out information together and understand what was fake news. Knowledge could help children feel more in control.
Dealing with grief: Dr Gummer said it is important to talk about the person who has died, to remember happy times with them, to speak about how you are coping with grief and not to hide your emotions from children.
How to homeschool younger children: Dr Gummer said it is vital to have some sense of routine, but to also be flexible. She advocated trying to make it fun and seeing homeschooling as an opportunity to learn through play and to acquire life skills. The Good Play Guide has free resources.
How to homeschool and work: Dr Gummer advised parents to talk to their employer about flexing their hours around the kids, for instance, carving out a regular time when they can do calls if the kids can watch a film, working when they are asleep and so on. Employers may appreciate it if parents are proactive and come up with solutions. If it is not possible to work around the kids, she said employees could ask to be furloughed.
Guilt around increased screen time: Dr Gummer said as long as children were getting a balanced diet of screen time and imaginative and interactive play, parents should not beat themselves up that kids were on screens more than normal during lockdown. There are some good interactive apps around which are fun and educational on the Good App Guide.
Dealing with sibling rivalry: Dr Gummer recommended letting children resolve their own disputes as much as possible, rewarding good behaviour and encouraging collaborative tasks, such as cooking.
Banning the news: Dr Gummer said watching the news could be helpful for older children. Young children, however, might find it made them more anxious. Very young children found it difficult to distinguish between reality and fantasy.
How to combat boredom: Being bored can encourage creativity, said Dr Gummer. It was a good idea to let children get bored and see what they come up with. Parents could also suggest projects which are based on things they like is a good idea – the Good Play Guide has some project templates. Also, she said tasks like cooking can spin off into a range of tasks such as researching recipes and learning to budget.
Dealing with loneliness: Dr Gummer recommended involving distant family and friends in virtual activities, such as grandparents reading stories or playing virtual games at set periods during the day. Quality virtual interaction is important for children’s emotional development. Grandparents could, for instance, pass on a hug with a teddy bear over webcam, with both grandparent and child hugging a toy simultaneously.
Coming out of lockdown and returning to school: Dr Gummer said this would be gradual and parents should prepare children for it, for instance, getting them into a routine, getting them to talk to their friends on Skype, checking out their school uniform, etc, all the kind of things parents do after a long holiday.
Watch the webinar here.
*Dr Gummer is hosting Play at Home Fest, a free two-day virtual festival on 23rd and 24th May, with competitions, activities, attempts to break world records and a big emphasis on fun. The event will raise money for the COVID-19 appeal. More information at www.playathomefest.com.