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What is the impact of staying at home for a child’s mental health?

  • WHO estimates negative Covid impact on mental health of children
  • Building psychological resilience & attention key
  • Daily routines and structured social play are recommended

As the pandemic ebbs and flows through our states, parents across Australia are trying to find a semblance of normality as they attempt to balance work and parenting pressures in this evidently “new normal”.

The concern and anxiety the pandemic has caused has been well discussed and documented. However, a question that hasn’t had as much coverage is: What could the impact of Covid-19 be on child’s mental health?

The unprecedented measures to contain the covid-19 spread are disrupting lives across the world, particularly children who are also being exposed to life changes and negative stresses. Similar to adults, children may be experiencing various types of worry, anxiety and fear, such as uncertainty, losing a loved one, family difficulties, or a fear of what medical treatment may look like.

Children are also great sponges of emotion. They may not completely understand what is going on, particularly children under 5, but feelings and energy of those around them can certainly rub off on them.

According to World Health Organisation, “If schools have closed as part of necessary measures, then children may no longer have that sense of structure and stimulation that is provided by that environment, and now they have less opportunity to be with their friends and get that social support that is essential for good mental well-being.”

Although most children are at low risk of being negatively affected by the virus, some groups of children are more vulnerable, such as children with existing mental health issues, special needs and developmental delays.

Should I send my child back to childcare?

A scene all too common in Australian homes, homes typically empty during the day are now crammed with makeshift workstations and play/distraction stations for children.

It’s safe to say, it’s difficult to squeeze an 8-hour day when you’re trying to implement intentional play or learning activities for pre-schoolers.

It can be frustrating for a parent sure, but it can be more frustrating for a child used to structure, social play and now possibly affected by the anxiety parents are exhibiting as they try to balance work and parenting duties.

This is also why kids who are kept at home for extended periods tend to ‘act out’ more often. As recent WHO studies indicate “young children may find the changes that have taken place difficult to understand, and both young and older children may express irritability and anger. Children may find that they want to be closer to their parents, make more demands on them, and, in turn, some parents or caregivers may be under undue pressure themselves.”

The current chance of transmission among children has been relatively low

The reality is, there has been a low rate of confirmed COVID-19 causes among children, relative to the broader population. The Australian Government advise that in Australia, only 4.5% of cases have been in school aged children (between five and 17 years).

Even if a child is to catch Covid-19, severity amongst these cases have been relatively low. Their symptoms are milder, and they are less likely to develop severe illness. The most common symptoms in children are a runny nose, fever, cough and gastrointestinal symptoms. Nothing too different from a general cold.

Of course, if your child has complex medical needs it changes the equation, however not all chronic conditions are correlated to increased risk. Consult with your doctor to help ease your mind.

Read the COVID-19 and children fact sheet here

Your child needs social play

Keeping a child healthy is more than just keeping them covid-free. It’s important to think about your child’s health holistically.

When your child runs around the playground and interacts with other children (and adults), they’re not only exercising their bodies, but developing their social, mental and emotional skills during a critical stage in their development.

As Albert Einstein once said, “Play is the highest form of research.” When children play together, they are enhancing brain structure and cognitive function, as well as learning about resolving conflicts, working in groups and problem solving.

It is also important to remember that building a daily routine for your child creates a sense of normality, provides a safe structure and helps the child develop a sense of security.

Not all centres are equal: You can never be too paranoid about a centres Covid safety measures

Whether you’re thinking about sending your child back to childcare or finding another, make sure you ask questions and seek centres that put the child’s safety first. Before you make a decision, ask about:

  • Health screening: How are children being screened before entering the childcare centre? Are children being monitored throughout the day? What’s the process of checking for symptoms?
  • Cleaning procedures: How will toys, playground equipment, surfaces and other objects be disinfected? How often will they be cleaned?
  • Drop-off and pick up: Is there an allocated pick up zone? Does the centre restrict non-employee access to only the foyer?  
  • Hand washing: Are there hand-washing policies in place for children and staff? Is there water, soap and hand sanitiser available?
  • Group sizes: Are there any measures in place to follow national guidelines on indoor capacity numbers? How many kids will be together in a group or class?

In summary, your child craves attention and care you may not be able to provide 9am-5pm

Working 8 hours a day in pyjamas sounds great for people without kids, but trying to balance that with children at home is another story. It’s the equivalent of juggling several full-time jobs, and unfortunately everyone suffers when parents don’t get a break.

Children thrive when they are safe and protected, when their basic needs are met, and when they have stable and nurturing family and community relationships. It’s a challenge for parents as we always want to do what’s best for our children, but keeping your children at home may not be what’s best during such unprecedented times.

Ultimately, you want to be able to smile when you see your kids, not be curt and turn back to your laptop to finish up that urgent email.

Speak to Kids Club today about enrolling your child into childcare, and the covid safety measures we stringently in place for every centre.