Helping parents and kids with anxiety after Covid
Are you a parent worried about your son or daughter? Has it all seemed a bit flat since lockdown lifted? Are you finding life is more of a struggle than you thought and the children are a bit more reluctant than you imagined to return to their clubs/ hobbies? Perhaps they are even reluctant to see friends?
This is a difficult time, as not only do you worry about them but your own resources are already depleted from the whole experience of lockdown. You are in desperate need to replenish and have time for yourself but, instead, you find yourself trying to get them back on track, which takes your energy.
Does it all feel like a giant anti-climax?
I know the feeling. All through lockdown, we tried to “cope” and “get through”. I let my children play on their PlayStation and be on their phones, as we came to the conclusion that the electronics were actually their only vice, their only fun and social interaction opportunity.
Schoolwork suffered, but we had to resign ourselves to the thought that many others would be in the same boat. And, if we didn’t do something to raise our spirits, our relationships would suffer.
So I found myself giving in, creating more separate time, to give both me and the children the chance to recuperate from my nagging and pushing.
But now they are back at school, the cracks are showing. The motivation has disappeared, we are approaching summer term (traditionally exam time) and where has this year gone? Can you imagine returning to school and having to do exams, the pressure they must feel, it must be so overwhelming. And for others, all direction has been lost, they are coasting to summer.
We are all feeling flat, worn out and demotivated.
Some of the worries I am hearing are:
“They can’t let go of their screens, FaceTime, Snapchat, it’s like they are glued to their screens...”
“Sleep is shot, they won’t or can’t get to sleep at a decent hour, sometimes they are waking up and finding their electronics to play on at all hours.”
A lot of parents are feeling that they have been part of the problem - letting the screen time rules slip. So, how on earth could they expect to suddenly change the rules back and it all be OK? Parents don’t want any more arguments or wars, we need a period of calm and recuperation.
How are our children feeling?
I think part of what is going on is a huge contradiction. We have been in survival mode and we are expecting to return to ‘thrive mode’. But, it’s not a flick switch situation. Our children have been in survival mode too, and we are throwing them back to school and college without emotional preparation.
They are equally jaded, tired, confused and under pressure to return to normal. This may be leading to a whole host of behaviours.
What is happening on a deeper level?
The pandemic caused an almighty pause but, in this pause, it also gave our young people time to stop and evaluate. Often daydreaming through their school Zoom lessons, realising how boring life was, what were they really learning? What is this thing education all about? What would I really like to learn?
My son came downstairs one morning giving off about doing fractions and said why could he not learn about investing and buying a house, skills he could actually use when he was older. He is nine years old by the way! This surprised me but also he was right, of course. I tailored a lesson on that subject, but it did get me thinking about how long the education system is and how lost many of our young folk are within it.
Often, not getting good grades despite being bright, not finding their enjoyment and passion in their studies, clawing with anxiety to achieve academically to the expense of their well-being. We perhaps doubt the education system ourselves but feel less confident to follow an alternative path - what would that path even look like? When I find myself thinking in this way, I can imagine how ‘stuck’ a young person must feel about the routes forward.
Changes since Covid
The school/college environment is more strict. They can’t mix years groups, so if they don’t get along with their class/bubble, they don’t have the opportunity to meet others from a different year group at break time.
Imagine no breaks at work or friendly chats in between the drudge. Many of our young children are worried about getting Covid or passing it on. They worry about another lockdown and about their parents and grandparents. They are having to put up with wearing masks throughout the day (although that will soon be lifting).
There are all sorts of changes to their routine, affecting their comfort and security. Throw all that on top of being a young person, going through physiological and emotional changes. That pressure has got to show up somewhere!
Existing mental health difficulties are exacerbated…
For those who have already suffered from anxiety or mental health difficulties, the true tragedy in what I’m seeing is the change from ‘managing’ their problems into now experiencing the severe end. Those with ‘shyness’ and ‘awkwardness’, typical dilemmas for young people, have developed social anxiety, now finding life too overwhelming to even leave their house and return to school or college.
If they do gather the courage, they have to run the gauntlet of exam stress, and the now more capsulated environment. Sadly, my daughter is experiencing panic attacks and the one thing I had encouraged her to do was to leave the classroom and get fresh air, but the teacher was reluctant to let her do this because of Covid rules. This, in turn, increased the longevity of the attack and she had to deal with the rest of the class staring.
Life has lost its bounce. Things are returning but, after a year in lockdown, the body and mind can feel sluggish and reluctance can creep in to do the things we used to do and, so, we may not have many points of pleasure in our week. Did you know that behavioural research into depression shows that some of the essential factors for good mood and staving off low mood and depression are having fun and pleasure in your week?
Tips for helping you and your children with anxiety
If you are struggling to motivate your children to get back to life and do the things they previously enjoyed or the things that will help them feel better, here are some tips.
- Be understanding and let them talk, even if it’s the same thing again and again. Young people need to be heard, just like us, and more so if they are suffering from anxiety. Get those feelings up and out.
- Begin to learn relaxation exercises on YouTube with your young person, just listen through and give some a go. Find one that is relaxing for you and make time to do it together. Don’t judge it, stick with it! It begins to bring down the overall anxiety level, but it takes perseverance.
- Reach out for help – sometimes, let’s face it, our young people listen to everyone else but us!
I want to empower parents but I also know that I as a parent feel completely exhausted at the moment, and we have to stop piling on the guilt and responsibility sometimes. I have reached out to a coach for my son to help him with his sleep, his attitude to school and getting up and out and off the electronics.
OK, so those are my wishes! But when I ask my son what has helped, he says his coach helps him with his brain and problems. And do you know what, after one session, my son took his electronics out of his room and put them outside, so that he does not feel tempted at night to play! How many times have we argued over it, but there is the magic solution from someone else!
Some help is free, some you have to pay for, some are reasonable and often a few sessions can get you and your young person back on track. Take the pressure off yourself by reaching out. A coach can help a young person step forward in inventive ways, different from therapy or counselling.
If you are a parent and would like to join the conversation about anxiety, then join us for our free event on Monday 7th June 7:30pm on Eventbrite.