Play and family therapists are urging families to seek help if they are feeling mental health impacts post-lockdown, with anxiety certainly reported as rising among children.
Trish Reddy, play therapist at SoulChild PlayTherapy, Kilcock and Naas, Co Kildare, says ‘play is critical’ for children, especially following the changes of routine with lockdown and homeschooling. She has children between the ages of three and 15 attending her sessions.
Ms Reddy advises parents to enable their children to interact with others between now and the return to school in September.
She said: “Children who have been at home have more time at home with their parents and their own connections. That is the optimistic view of it - but some will have separation anxiety, not being social and being at home.”
Ms Reddy said: “I worry about children returning to very anxious teachers, and minders. Children will trust how an adult is reacting. If an adult is reacting calmly, then that is what children will feel. There is anxiety everywhere. There is a huge rise in demands with therapy specific to anxiety for adults. There might be a rise in OCD.
“I see parents reacting to children in shops, parents saying ‘don’t touch that’. If Mammy is not going to feel safe, then the child is not going to feel safe.”
With a background as a Gymboree instructor who then became an accredited play therapist, Ms Reddy encourages parents to enable their children to play and to express themselves through music and song. She says, above all else, children need to socialise, and that the impact of social distancing is still not known and is being examined by experts.
To counteract its impact, Ms Reddy advises giving children the confidence to get back out again, after lockdown.
She said: “The advice is that social distancing is important, but there are camps opening and there are places for them to go. It is my fear that we will have another lockdown, but we can’t blame our adolescents. The vast majority are doing as well as any adults, we have no right to pin-point any group in our society, I see a lot of very well-behaved teenagers.
“I would prefer to see them out, for their mental health. I think that the best thing is to remind them that they have done this before, and that children and adolescents are least affected by Covid-19. I would be encouraging them to socialise, so as long as it is not a house party or whatever. I am a parent of two teenagers, it is the parent’s job to manage this.”
Age appropriate talk about Covid-19 is best, say the experts. Ms Reddy said: “Facing the little fears is what make children brave.
“It is okay to make mistakes and try again the next day.”
She advises nurturing play for children, especially between the ages of three and six, and homemade tents and baking for all ages.
According to Clodagh Flanagan, of Naas Family and Play Therapy Service in Kildare, not scaring children, or making them think that they are making people sick, is important in relation to Covid-19.
She says that the wording of why they have to keep their distance and can’t visit elderly relatives is important. Anxiety due to job losses within families is a major issue, says Ms Flanagan, and she says that children and adults can both be impacted.
Ms Flanagan said: “It is about acknowledging what we can control and what we can’t control.”
She advises parents to educate themselves around social media and says that Tik Tok has become a phenomenon since Covid-19. She encourages parents to have conversations with their children on that and ensure that there is a balance between screen time and off-screen time, so that there is quality off-screen time, preferably outdoors.
The experts advise this summer to get children outdoors as much as possible with playhouses and rounders all good options as activities, while on a rainy day board games, art and role-play are all important.