The Impact of Parental Anxiety on Children

Parents are not only faced with anxiety around their own well-being, employment, mental health, etc., but also around making the correct decisions for, and supporting, their children.  While it is completely natural to experience anxiety, it is vitally important that as parents, we do not transfer our anxieties onto our children.  How can we prevent this from happening?

  • Looking after your own mental health
    • Limit amount of time on social media and news channels
    • Only use reputable sources for information
    • Focus on the things you can control
    • Have a routine
    • Practice good sleep hygiene
    • Eat healthy
    • Hydrate frequently
    • Exercise
    • While working, follow the 55-5 rule (55 min seated working, 5 min walking around)
    • Have a dedicated work space separate from a leisure space
    • Plan for what you can
    • Stay connected with loved ones and friends
    • Take time off to do things you enjoy
    • Get into nature if possible
    • Avoid self-medicating (this includes alcohol and other substances)
    • Practice mediation or deep breathing exercises
  • Communicate:
    • At an age appropriate level with your child/ren
    • Be kind and supportive
    • Allow them to ask questions
    • Do not discuss topics with your partner in front of children if these are not age appropriate
    • Work with children to set up rules during home-learning and living
    • Routines and structure are important
    • Discipline in a positive manner (e.g. talk about the behaviour you want to see, rather than focus on the negative / undesirable behaviour)
    • Normalise their fears around safety and reflect that you are being extra cautious to do everything possible to protect your family
  • Spend Time:
    • Quality time interacting is important (e.g. family games, walks, playing)
    • Spend meaningful time on screens (e.g. read stories together)
    • Ensure that they spend time connecting socially not only learning on screens
    • Time and communication with extended family members and friends is important
    • Spend time together while helping others (e.g. making sandwiches for the needy, knitting squares to make blankets)
  • Access to Technology:
    • Ensure parental controls are in place on all devices
    • Ensure that privacy settings are on
    • Educate children around safe technology use (e.g. never provide your address or personal information to strangers, do not send photo’s to people you do not know)
    • Monitor them when being online – be aware of any secretive behaviour
    • Limit screen time during times when you can engage with your child
  • Model & Encourage Healthy Online Habits
    • Encourage children to maintain their manners as if they were face-to-face in class
    • Be kind and respectful on video/voice calls
    • Be mindful of what they wear and where they use the device (e.g. if they need to go to the toilet, not to take the device with them)

Where parental anxiety is transferred to children, we will typically see:

  • Heightened anxiety
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Regression to behaviours that they had already outgrown
  • Becoming more clingy / show separation anxiety
  • Have difficulty regulating their emotions
  • Not be able to self-sooth
  • Acting out behaviours
  • Attention-seeking
  • Wanting parents to be involved continuously
  • Inability to play on their own
  • Concentration difficulties
  • Defiance
  • Not wanting to engage in online learning
  • Increased conflict between parent-child and siblings

If you see any of these signs or other incidents that concern you for an extended period, you should contact a Psychologist to help you and your child.  Children from the age of 2 until 12 will engage in play therapy, while older children and adolescents engage in “talk” therapy.

Supporting Children Returning to School during Covid-19

The South African Government has announced the phasing in of learners returning to face-to-face teaching. This has caused two camps to rise: those for children returning and those against children returning to school. I am not going to choose sides, rather focus on how to support children as they go back to school.

Firstly, we need to be aware that many individuals may struggle with anxiety and fear on returning to school. We also need to realize that while children may not show signs of difficulties initially, these may arise as they are faced with new processes on entering schools and interacting with peers and teachers through physical distancing – this is going to be particularly difficult for younger children. As children get used to their new realities during Covid-19, as well as the uncertainty of it’s duration, the prolonged effect may well give rise to an increase in mental illness.

So how do we support all children as we ourselves learn to navigate the waters of our new (hopefully temporary) reality (while managing our own anxieties and fears)? How do we support children who may have, or who may be at risk of mental illness?

  1. Clinically vulnerable children should not return to school but should be supported through online learning.
  2. Children who live in homes with vulnerable individuals should only attend school if strict hygiene and physical distancing is practiced. The child needs to be old enough to be able to understand these practices and be able to carry them out.
  3. Age-appropriate education around Covid-19 is important. This should be implemented in the home as well as the school environment.
  4. Children should be taught good hand hygiene practices at home before returning to school.
  5. Educate children about physical distancing and physical contact and the spread of Covid-19.
  6. Teach children to wear masks independently where a child is able to put on or remove a mask without assistance. For young children, a face mask may be considered – the use of these should also be practiced prior to going back to school.
  7. Talk to children about their thoughts and feelings around returning to school. Normalize their feelings and offer support.
  8. Explain the changes they can expect on returning to school (most schools are providing parents with the procedures that will be implemented).
  9. Keep having conversations with children about their experiences and feelings as the days and weeks after returning to school progress.
  10. Good communication with your child’s teacher is key.

Lockdown Level 3 Services Available Online or Face-to-face

Caring for Covid Carers

I have the privilege of being able to be part of an amazing initiative called #Caring4CovidCarers. After a fantastic 2 hours of connecting with colleagues through training this morning, I am reminded again of the need to support those on our front line. I am also reminded that those on the front line may not be aware of my previous offer of support during this pandemic and through reminders such as this one, word can be spread that no one is alone in this.

If you need to reach out, please do not hesitate to contact me. I am still offering pro bono counselling sessions during the Covid-19 pandemic to all health care workers (doctors, nurses, allied health care providers on the front-line, hospital administration staff, and even staff working in hospitals in procurement and storage, cleaners, etc.). It will not only be our doctors and nurses needing support in the coming weeks and months.

Thank you for all that has been done to date, and all that you will still do.

(T): 076 562 8271