Children's mental health suffering due to coronavirus impact, say parents

Parents are concerned about the mental health of their young children due to the pandemic and the subsequent lack of social interaction, as well as the transition back to school.
Children's mental health suffering due to coronavirus impact, say parents
Picture: PA
Picture: PA

Parents are concerned about the mental health of their young children due to the pandemic and the subsequent lack of social interaction, as well as the transition back to school.

Many parents do not know where to turn for advice, resources or information to assist them in supporting their child’s mental health during this time.

Isolation and loneliness, anxiety, and coping strategies were among the top three concerns for parents who feel they need help to support their child’s mental health.

The findings are included in a survey of 1,500 parents nationwide carried out by Walk in My Shoes, St Patrick’s Mental Health services education campaign, together with the National Parents Council.

"We know that the pandemic has had mental health impacts for all of Irish society, and children, in particular, are feeling the effects from disruption to their school and social lives," said Paul Gilligan, the chief executive of St Patrick’s Mental Health Services.

There are multiple resources available to support children’s mental health and help them positively adjust to a new normality, he said, adding that the impacts will gradually subside as life returns to normal.

"As schools come to a close for summer holidays, it is timely to remind parents that the key ways to keep our children mentally healthy apply during these unusual times, reminding them they are loved, teaching them how to be happy and to have self-belief, ensuring they feel safe and helping them to meet emotional challenges."

“Protecting our own mental health is also vital,” he added.

The survey found:

- Almost 70% of primary school parents are concerned about their children’s mental health due to the pandemic.

- One in four of these parents say they are either very or extremely concerned.

- Just 17% of the children of the parents surveyed have received mental health support from places like schools, helplines, counselling services, or HSE community support.

- One-third of parents surveyed said they would not know where to turn for advice on supporting their children’s mental health.

Walk in My Shoes has developed online resources and tools to assist parents, available at www.walkinmyshoes.ie. A webinar for parents will also take place on Wednesday, July 29 July.

"This is a timely survey as young people prepare to say goodbye to the academic year and look toward the summer months," Aine Lynch, the chief executive of the National Parents Council said.

"This survey shows that parents are engaging with online information for mental health support, and this information is key to developing accessible and reliable resources that will empower them to help their children through this difficult time."

Meanwhile, a professor at the Trinity College Dublin School of Education has urged parents not to worry about ‘curriculum catch-up’ when schools reopen.

Professor Noirin Hayes, an expert in early childhood education, believes resettling children back into routines should be the priority.

"Children will have been learning lots of new things and different skills during the pandemic period. They may also have had stresses to deal with," she said.

"The emphasis should be on an enjoyable restart, with opportunities given and time taken to re-establish familiarity with school, with friends and with teachers.” “This message is particularly important for children who may have had difficult experiences during the lockdown and are receiving additional schooling support over the summer.

"The emphasis should be on nurturing their relationship with learning, rather than catching up on homework."

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