With her own children impacted by three lockdowns, former Labour party county councillor, Deirdre Kingston, from Rosscarbery surveyed other parents who said their kids were suffering anxiety, sleep issues and mood swings
AS a parent I am constantly wondering if I’m doing an ok job. Are my two children (aged three and one) warm enough, are they eating enough, are they sleeping enough, are they seeing their friends enough, is school going ok, are they happy. I know this will be familiar to a lot of parents. It’s part of the territory. But it is also why parents see the effect of Covid-19 restrictions through the lens of the impact on our children.
When I had my first child in 2017, people would stop in the street to coo at him, pinch his cheeks and tell him he was gorgeous. When he was a little older, we’d chat with people in cafes, on the bus, in the shop, in the playground. It was like a classroom for him. He learned words from people, he socialised, he en- gaged. My second child, who was born in 2020, has had a totally different experience. He doesn’t see people’s faces. A lot of people have actively avoided him. And sadly, he knows no different.
Children are resilient. I have heard this phrase a lot over the past few months. They will adjust. And this may be true. But it is also true that children are sensitive to change, they are like sponges constantly soaking up moods and anxieties, and they need structure, education, play, sport and the support of their friends.
Covid-19 has been like nothing we have ever known.
I understand the need to pull together, to distance, and to wear our masks. I fully sup- port these health measures for the good of public health. But, what I do have a problem with, is the lack of acknowledgement on the impact on children, the stress this puts on parents, and the lack of a plan around ensuring consistency, particularly in school- ing, for them.
Over the past week, my husband and I conducted a simple, 10 question survey. We did this because we noticed the effect that the three lockdowns have had on our children and we wanted to get a sense of how widespread this was. A total of 924 people from across the country responded to the survey over five days. The response rate floored us. It showed that par- ents want to be heard.
Our survey found that four in five parents have seen a behavioural change in their children. Some nine in 10 par- ents have said that it has had an emotional impact. This
is much higher in 0 – 12 year olds and we saw the impact on mental health increasing amongst teens and over 18s. The main issues reported were mood swings, anxiety, sleep issues and anger. All leading to very worried and stressed parents with almost half of parents saying they found it very stressful and a quarter saying they felt una- ble to cope. Over two thirds of parents felt that the lack
of engagement with friends impacted negatively on children, and should serve as a red flag to Government.
We are all struggling with this ‘Covid’ reality. Our children are really struggling. I get the need for restrictions, but the profound physical, emotional and mental impact on our children has to be ad- dressed.
I am very lucky to be in a safe, warm home. My children have enough to eat and a garden to play in. They have two parents who are healthy and present. I am acutely aware this isn’t the case for everyone.
There are children in emergency accommodation, in direct provision, in homes where there is domestic violence, parents suffering serious mental health difficulties or where families are struggling financially. Imagine for a second how this has impacted them, and their caregivers?
Many of the responses to the survey were from one parent families. Parents who are working and raising children on their own, and have little support. Parents who are frontline workers on shift work who are coming home in the morning and cannot go to bed because they then have to be there for their children. There have been incredibly sad cases shared too. Parents with health issues including serious mental health conditions, who said that school had effectively shielded the children from the extent of the problems.
I’ve seen some commentary saying children will get over it. This may be true, and I hope it is, but no one can say that for certain. Who knows how a year of anxiety or mood swings will affect a teenager returning to school.
Nobody knows a child better than their parent or guardian so surely, they are best placed to make a judgement on that. And what we have seen through the survey is a huge sense of worry about how their children are feeling, how they have disengaged and how the past year has impacted them socially and emotionally.
We need to put in place support for children where it’s needed. There have been noble calls recently for catch up funds or a Covid dividend for children. I hope that something positive will come out of the difficulties of the past year. Recognition of the problems would be a good place to start.