Kids Need Ongoing Mental Health Support Long out of Lockdown

By Jessie Zhang
Jessie Zhang
Jessie Zhang
Jessie Zhang is a reporter based in Sydney, Australia, covering news on health and science.
January 25, 2022Updated: January 25, 2022

With a new term just around the corner, early childhood experts are encouraging parents to focus on their child’s wellbeing, especially in the face of another potentially challenging year.

University of South Australia’s Professor Marjory Ebbeck advises parents not to neglect their child’s mental health even out of lockdowns and when restrictions appear to be easing.

“With the debate surrounding sufficient availability of Pfizer vaccinations for primary school children (aged 5-11 years), and ‘bi-model’ learning (face-to-face learning for reception and years 1, 2, 7, 8 and 12; and homeschooling for all others), it’s not surprising that parents and children alike are confused and concerned about the current scenario,” Ebbeck said in a media release.

Australian children have been hearing, seeing, and experiencing school closures and lockdowns, as well as food, grocery, and now vaccine and testing shortages for the past few years. They’ve also had to adopt new safe health practices, including mask-wearing and social distancing.

“As a result, studies show that more than a third of Australian parents say that their children (from babies to 18-year-olds) have been negatively affected by the pandemic, showing increased anxiety, problems with sleep, and a sense of disconnection with their friends.

As school rolls around again, parents can build their child’s sense of confidence and wellbeing in the following ways:

“Reassure children that a school is a safe place, that they’ll be able to play with their friends, see familiar spaces, and have great books to read. Remind them that their teachers are looking forward to seeing them and that they’ll get to do lots of fun and exciting activities with their classmates,” Ebbeck said.

“At the same time, parents can also support children’s wellbeing through practical things such as ensuring their child gets enough to sleep as well as enough outdoor play, cutting back on technology, and settling back into a regular routine.

“By focussing on these positives, parents can help build their children’s confidence, ability to cope with stress, and their overall wellbeing,” Ebbeck added.

The world’s most intensive study of parents and children during the pandemic by Deakin University published in Dec. 2021 confirmed that lockdowns were harmful, and found high levels of loneliness in children and a worsening mental health trajectory over time.

“The unexpected deterioration of parent and child symptoms in March to May [2021] may represent increasing public uncertainty or weariness with the pandemic and associated social restrictions,” lead author Elizabeth Westrupp said.

“These findings tell us we need to more actively monitor mental health and ensure good ongoing access to mental health supports and services even when pandemic impacts appear to be easing.”