Posted on 19/04/2021 by Dan Grace
How has COVID-19 impacted children’s mental health, and what can teachers and parents do to help?
I’m Laura, a Primary Consultant at Uniform Education, and my passion in life is to support other people. In my work, I am able to satisfy this drive to help others by working closely with my schools, teachers and LSAs to provide excellent recruitment and employment solutions. I also have an academic background in Psychology and Mental Health, and as a result, I am always mindful of mental health within our society and keen to figure out how I can support people in this way.
The pandemic has affected everybody’s mental health in so many different ways, and in light of Children’s Mental Health Week 2021, in this blog I will summarise the impacts of the pandemic upon the mental health of our country’s primary-aged children and how adults can support them at this time. As a result of the pandemic, quarantined children have shown signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder1, increased depressive and anxiety symptoms2, and overall negative psychological consequences3. As an adult, it has been challenging to come to terms with the significant changes that have taken hold in our lives in the last year – and for children this is even more difficult to comprehend.
Friendships provide children with crucial support, fun and a sense of belonging which helps them to develop their personal identities. Losing physical contact and psychological support from family and peers during crucial developmental stages, undergoing reduced daily structure and routine, and heightened boredom and frustration from a loss of their usual extra-curricular activities, all contribute to increased loneliness in primary-aged children which in turn intensifies symptoms of depression and anxiety4.
To help children deal with loneliness, parents and teachers should encourage children to continue spending time with friends and family through video calls or phone calls. Create regular open discussions about how children are feeling – allow them to lead the discussion and together consider different ways in which they can cope with losses and loneliness. Teachers may be able to facilitate this check-in as a lesson starter, either in-school or virtually, ensuring to offer children the opportunity to chat confidentially after class as well.
Anxieties about school and the future
Most children have been out of school for a very long time, and starting a new school year is stressful at the very best of times, let alone during a pandemic. Primary-aged children have expressed concerns around their education, missing school and transitions between year levels and key stages5 and the long-term impact this may have on their academic life. They may also be nervous about contracting and spreading COVID-19 and the implications of this upon the health of themselves and their family.
It is absolutely OK for parents and teachers to feel uncertain and worried. However, children are very tuned in to how their parents and teachers are feeling and may pick up on worries about the pandemic, through facial expressions and tone of voice. Focus on modelling calm behaviour around the children and informing them of what is being done by the school, family and government to ensure a safe and smooth return to school and education. Talk about the things which will be great about going back to school, such as excitement to see friends and teachers in person, resuming routine, being able to take pride in their role as a student in minimising COVID-related risks (engaging in good hygiene and following instructions), and how strong they will be after having dealt with such a massive global issue.
What can help school staff cope?
It is important to facilitate a positive, engaging and compassionate environment for children, both at home and at school. But this is understandably difficult in the midst of a health crisis, and teachers (particularly those supporting children with SEN6), are anxious and worried about the future, health, balancing needs and financial security. A study has reported that difficulties in relationships and conflict at home and school intensify depressive and anxiety symptoms in children7, so it is of utmost importance that teachers and school staff feel supported and are able to be kind to themselves. Try and reduce school-related stressors as much as possible through forward planning and identifying individuals that you can turn to when you are feeling worried. Eat well, get active, enjoy nature and get enough sleep. People who care for their own well-being and mental health are better able to care for children’s, after all!
On a personal level, I ultimately want school staff to feel reassured that at Uniform Education, we are available to support your staffing and recruitment needs. We fully appreciate that 2021 is a vital year to ensure children are being taught and supported by the right members of staff to encourage a smooth and successful return to school-based learning, and that this can be an added stressor to school leadership who are already handling so many important decisions. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if we can help with this in any way at all!
- Saurabh K, Ranjan S. Compliance and Psychological Impact of Quarantine in Children and Adolescents due to Covid-19 Pandemic. Indian J Pediatr. 2020;87(July):532–6.
- Xie X, Xue Q, Zhou Y, Zhu K, Liu Q, Zhang J, et al. Mental health status among children in home confinement during the Coronavirus disease 2019 outbreak in Hubei province, China. JAMA Pediatr. 2020.
- Liang L, Ren H, Cao R, Hu Y, Qin Z, Li C, et al. The Effect of COVID-19 on Youth Mental Health. Psychiatr Q. 2020;(1163).
- Loades ME, et al. Rapid systematic review: The impact of social isolation and loneliness on the mental health of children and adolescents in the context of COVID-19. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. 2020; doi:10.1016/j.jaac.2020.05.009.
- Mental Health Foundation. Coronavirus: Mental Health in the Pandemic [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2020 Jun 15]. Available from: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/our-work/research/coronavirus-mental-hea...
- Waite P, Moltrecht B, Mcelroy E, Creswell C. Report 02: Covid-19 worries, parent/carer stress and support needs, but child special educational needs and parent/carer work status. Oxford; 2020.
- Nolan D. ‘ Spend time with me ’: Children and young people ’ s experiences of COVID-19 and the justice system. 2020.