How to help children overcome impact of the pandemic

COVID-19 has had a ‘very real and lasting impact’ on children, according to a Donegal paediatric therapist.
Helen Swierszcz Moore (36) from St Johnston is the paediatric therapist and parenting consultant behind In Tune Parenting. She works with children between the ages of four and 12 who are experiencing anxiety, fears, phobias and/or trauma.
Throughout the pandemic, she has been working online with parents but she recently returned to making house visits to help her young clients and their families.
Unfortunately, she believes there is a marked increase in anxiety as very young children under the age of seven are presenting with symptoms such as clinginess, more frequent emotional outbursts, having difficulty concentrating, muscle tension, tummy aches, feeling unwell but being unable to pinpoint symptoms, and a return to more ‘babyish’ behaviours.
Ms Swierszcz Moore explained, “In most cases this anxiety in young children is not the result of the restrictions themselves or even of the risk of catching the virus but from witnessing signs of anxiety in their parents.
“For some families’ lockdowns and restrictions made on social gatherings simply meant more family time which was a very positive thing but for other children the restrictions meant, financial difficulty, increased tension at home and the inability to escape uncomfortable and in some cases traumatic experiences.
“The impact varies widely and of course it presents differently in each individual child and specific family environment. However, it cannot be denied that Covid-19 has had a very real and lasting impact on our children,” said Ms Swierszcz Moore.
She has found that parents are concerned about the impact Covid-19 may have on their child’s social development regarding social interaction and their education. She believes many families have no concerns over sending their children back to school as they trust in the safeguards in place at school.
“Naturally there is a sense of urgency within children to focus on the social aspects they have missed out on. Parents are seeing their children cling tightly to friendships and express dependence on peer relationships which may be causing some friction within homes now.
“Many parents have expressed concerns around their children having missed out educationally in the past two years, however, the schools are very aware of this and are doing everything in their power to provide children with appropriate educational opportunities whilst keeping all families safe.”
Other concerns also exist.
“Some are concerned about illness or anxiety in their children, or that their child may be a close contact, or may contract the virus asymptomatically making it impossible to shield vulnerable family members at home,” said Ms Swierszcz Moore.
If a children are anxious about Covid-19, the therapist advises parents to check their own behaviour for anxiety and to stay aware of how Covid-19 is discussed in the household.
She continued, “If your child is struggling with anxiety surrounding Covid-19, the first thing I recommend is to check yourself and take note of how you are feeling.
“Stay aware of how you talk about Covid-19, as young children, even while not actively listening, will absorb the underlying emotion in your words and may feel fearful in response to the apparent lack of emotion expressed by newscasters.
She advises: “Establish and maintain daily routines to provide a sense of control, predictability, calm and well-being.
“Routines also help to ensure that the needs of all the family are being met and respected.
“Deep breathing is a valuable tool for calming the nervous system. If this practice is engaged in by parents when they are feeling stressed, children are likely to try it for themselves and reap the benefits.
“Your child may already be engaging in several self-regulating activities, such as fidgeting, spinning or doing handstands on the couch.
“Some children may find quiet activities like colouring, drawing, Lego, or puzzles to be soothing but not all children do. Notice the behaviours that proceed and follow emotional outbursts.
“For parents who have these basics already in place, it’s worth seeking the advice of a professional to help you with your child’s specific needs,” said Ms Swierszcz Moore.

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