Lockdown has made it worse!
This is the phrase I am hearing more often from parents and teachers when they describe the challenging behaviours they face. And it’s not just the kids that have been affected - it’s all of us. During the past 5 months I have delivered training to many schools, sport organisations and parents. This phrase has been the recurring theme throughout.
As humans, we rightly assume that we are immensely complicated, with various factors influencing the physiology and psychology of who we are, who we become, but - it boils down to a few basics. The brain and body functions in such a way that certain needs have to be met for us to function well, and 2020 has certainly made that difficult.
Our four basic needs:
1. Physiological needs. (enough water, healthy diet, enough sleep, regular exercise).
2. Safety needs (to feel safe, physically and psychologically)
3. Belonging (to feel loved and accepted, to belong to social groups)
4. Significance (to feel valued, experience success, have some control)
Complete the questionnaire to find out if you or your kids have been affected in any of these four areas and how to support them.
When all four of the above needs have been met, we reach the point where we can function optimally (Maslow; 1943). For adults, this is where we can use our well-developed brains to make sense of the world around us. For children who have brains at various stages of development, this is where they are able to grow their best-est happy brains!
Adult mental health deteriorates when our needs are not met. But with children, mental ill-health can be embedded into their developing brains, with life-long detrimental consequences.
The first lockdown wiped away our routines and daily structure. When we do not have good routines, it impacts on our sleep patterns, exercise and diet. These three factors; sleep, exercise and diet are often described as the three pillars of good mental health. Did you hear of any (pre-) teens gaming late into the night? Did you find your food bill increasing with all the extra snacks? How many families continued to go out for a daily walk / cycle, once the one-hour limit was lifted? Exercise is now once again limited for our children, with no after-school activities and the nights drawing in earlier. When one of these areas are affected, it has a knock-on effect on the other two, causing a downhill spiral which can cause low moods and depression. Therefore it's not surprising that so many children have become unmotivated and unwilling to engage unless the activities are tech-based.
Normality = Safety. No normality = No safety. It was here one day, gone the next. This meant that we could no longer use our own intellect to navigate and accurately predict what the future will hold for us. It’s so hard living like normal people without being able to do all the normal stuff! The constant feeling of unease at the back of our minds can trigger anxiety in adults. And it goes deeper than that - for the rational part of our brain to function well, we HAVE to feel safe - that’s how the brain is wired. The latest statistics show that nearly half of the adult population in the UK are feeling more anxious (Health Europa, 2020). If we’re struggling, how much more is this a problem for our children! How many children overheard conversations talking about the daily death rate, how many people are dying each day. This anxiety can be embedded into their developing brains, meaning that they will be much more prone to mental ill-health during their adult years.
Just because we don’t see the effects now, does not mean there aren’t any effects! It can take up to 10 years for the effects to become visible.
The reduction in social interaction has had a considerable impact on us all. We are social beings and need social interaction to stay mentally healthy. As adults, we’re able to rationalise that the Covid regulations are temporary, that at some point we’ll be able to return to normal and have access to our support networks again. Even so – it’s tough and getting tougher as we get closer to the festive period! In our children’s short lives, these sudden breaks in relationships might well leave them with feelings of loss, rejection and abandonment. Never being in a favourite teacher’s class again, not seeing a favourite coach, not being able to hug friends or grandparents all have a big effect on their emotional state. Parents might not be as emotionally available as they were before, due to their own difficulties, such as financial worries and not being able to tap into their own support systems. We know that healthy brains grow through strong relationships (emotional attachments) with others, so it’s no wonder that so many children are displaying more attention-seeking behaviour. There is no substitute for healthy face-to-face interaction, not Zoom, not X-boxes, not social media.
The government should have used the phrase “physical distancing”, instead of “social distancing”. We need social interactions now more than ever!
Loss of freedom, control, rites of passage and opportunities are all affecting our confidence and self-esteem. If the problem is so big (think global crisis!), how can we keep control of anything or experience success? Children are experiencing this too, everything they know and understand of the world is suddenly thrown upside down and they are missing out because of it. In conversations with parents and teachers, I’m hearing of more children either withdrawing (not wanting to take risks) or showing challenging behaviour through power struggles.
In the midst of this global pandemic it's very difficult for us as humans to have our needs met. Is it any wonder that lockdown has made it worse? For any of us?
What next? 20 Questions to help you identify which area/s your child has been affected.
Strategies to support your child and avoid issues further on in their lives.
Email Eloise if you’d like to know more or need some support.
Maslow, A., 1943. A Theory of Human Motivation.Psychological Review, 50(4), pp.370-396.