We have heard a lot about the negative effects of the COVID lockdown on our children’s mental health; and that is definitely a concern we need to address. However, negative effects were not uniformly reported. Some studies suggested positive effects of the lockdown on our children’s mental health. This lack of consistency aroused the curiosity of Emma Soneson, a PhD student and Gates Scholar at the Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge. She and her colleagues collected data from over 17,000 students (age 8- to 18-years-old) participating in a large, school-based survey called the OxWell Student Survey. For this study, the students completed questionnaires about their experiences around the pandemic, school, home, life, and relationships at the end of the first lockdown. Based on their answers, the students fell into three categories, each continuing about one third of the participating students:
- Those whose well-being improved during the lockdown
- Those who experienced no change in well-being during the lockdown
- Those who experienced a deterioration in well-being during the lockdown
What was different for these three groups? The answer to that question may give us good information about how to promote our children’s well-being in general, pandemic or not. So what’s different?
- Nearly half of those reporting improved well-being also reported feeling less lonely or left out. 41% reported improved relationships with friends (as opposed to 26% in the no change group and 27% in the deterioration group).
- Over half [53%] of those reporting improved well-being cited getting along better with family members, as opposed to 26% in the no change group and 21% in the deterioration group).
- Those who reported greater well-being also noted a decrease in being bullied. In fact, 92% of those reporting improved well-being noted a decrease in being bullied, compared to only 83% in the no change and 81% deterioration group. Interestingly, that’s a lot of people saying bullying decreased in their life during the lockdown.
- Another factor involved sleep. 49% of those who reported improved well-being reported sleeping more (compared to 30% in the no change group and 19% in the deterioration group).
- Those who reported greater well-being were also those who remained in school every day
or nearly every day versus attending once or twice. (In many areas, those with special educational needs or those whose parents feared their child falling behind through cyber school remained in school.) Some factor contributing to this group noting greater well-being may include more flexibility to tailor teaching styles to meet different learning styles, smaller classrooms, more focused attention from teachers, later waking times since the schools often had later start times, and more freedom during the school day.
Overall, this provides important information about ways in which we can promote our children’s overall well-being. Here are some ideas.
- Provide places for your children to engage in healthy peer relationships. This may include various clubs, sports, activities, churches, or even having their friends to your house. Provide an environment that can promote positive peer relationships.
- Spend time with your children. Build a strong relationship with your child. Engage them in fun activities, not just work. Invest in their interests. Share your interests with them. Enjoy your time together.
- Develop healthy sleep hygiene in your home. Model healthy sleep and so model for your child. Put limits on social media and cellphone usage so it does not interfere with sleep. Develop healthy bedtime routines.
- Watch for bullying. If your child is a victim of bullying, address it immediately. Go to the school to talk with the school staff about your child’s experience of bullying. Develop a plan to help decrease bullying. Build your child’s self-image so they can stand against bullying. If it continues, take your child out of the situation in which they are being bullied and find another place, a safe place, for them to learn.
Hopefully we are moving past this pandemic. There are, however, things we can learn and implement even after the pandemic is past. These four practices can improve our children’s sense of well-being even after the pandemic.