Parenting, Coronavirus

20 November, 2020

Raising emotionally healthy children through the impact of COVID-19

As we mark Universal Children’s Day, child psychologist and Chief Executive Officer of St Patrick’s Mental Health Services, Paul Gilligan, shares advice for parents and guardians on easing the impact of COVID-19 on our young people.

When you sum up the losses children of all ages have experienced in the last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, no child has gone unaffected. In any other circumstances, a child experiencing these types of loses would be identified as needing substantial support.

We should not underestimate the resilience and strength of our young people, most of whom are struggling through and doing their best to comply with restrictions in the knowledge they are protecting others more vulnerable than themselves. However, it is still important that we do all we can to alleviate the psychological and emotional impact of the pandemic on our young people.

Many of us feel disquiet that we are being asked to prevent or discourage our children from doing things we know enhance their emotional and psychological development, but we rationalise this as being for the greater good.

Of course, we should continue to encourage children and young people to adhere to the restrictions. They know themselves that they must play their part and most are willing to do so. However, it is vital that we do not see this as the “new normal”, and that we ensure we have a plan in place to restore our children and young peoples’ lives to a psychologically healthy “normal”.

We can do this by:

We can do this by:

  1. Encouraging them to continue to socialise face-to-face with their peers while adhering to the restrictions; for example, by meeting a friend for a socially distanced walk in Level Avoid defaulting to the use of internet based communication all the time
  2. Ensuring they demonstrate physical affection to the people they can, when they can, and reminding them there will be a time, at some stage, when they can return to doing this with their friends and family
  3. Permitting them to discuss how sad, angry, or upset they are with the restrictions and the losses they have experienced, without making them feel guilty or ashamed that they are letting others down or are being weak
  4. Putting the information and risks into perspective for them and teaching them how to manage these risks and the associated worry.

The way forward

The way forward

All of this requires us to confront our own insecurities, and to remind ourselves that things will change and that this is not the new normal. It requires us to make sense of the vast amount of information being presented to us and put it into perspective, to tackle our own anxieties, to continue to show physical emotion and to socialise face-to face when we can.

As parents, our biggest challenge is managing the day-to-day risks, worries and changes that COVID-19 brings while trying to raise emotionally healthy children and keep ourselves healthy.

We are all in this together and children know this; however, there is a danger that the greatest long-term impact will be on them. Recognising this and providing them with the space and support to resolve these impacts is essential. Supporting them to tap into their resilience and to connect again with the core psychological aspects of humanity will help ensure they thrive.

This is an extract from an article which appeared in the Irish Examiner on 20 November 2020. To read the full article click here.