Updated: Apr 14, 2021
COVID-19 brought us face-to-face with some big issues in our time, not the least of which is our relationship with technology. More than eleven months on, we’re discovering the long-term effects of socialising almost exclusively in online realms. For those of us who have decades of offline learning and socialising up our sleeves, we may be able to recover from the effects that living purely online have had on our mental health during lockdown. But, there’s the age old question, what about the kids?
We’re no strangers to online learning here at FranceABC. And it may come as no surprise that we believe thoroughly in its benefits. But we’re devoted educators, and as such, are aware of the limitations of each new learning method. Online learning has incredible potential to move our world forward safely and swiftly, opening up a galaxy of knowledge that our ancestors only dreamt of. Yet, as with any progress, this can’t be done without caution, attention to risk, and measures to mitigate those risks. Researchers are already conducting studies to find out how online learning has had an impact on mental health during lockdown. Here we’ve summarised its effects and some tips on how you can promote the positives and negate the negatives.
Living in Loneliness
Humans are a social species. There’s no denying that we all need human contact, no matter how little. More than this, we need variety. And after nearly a year stuck in our houses with the same few folks, the human interaction we receive from our families seems duller than it may have when we had the option to see others too.
Loneliness has become a serious problem that millions of us are suffering through. Children, in particular, who are used to interaction and physical play with their friends, may be struggling with the move to online learning. While we know this is for their safety and that of our community, this doesn’t remove the feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Beat Zoom Fatigue
If your kids are feeling lonely, there are a few things you can do to help. First, encourage them to call without screens. While the video may seem like it brings us closer to our friends, excessive screen time does nothing to help our mental health during lockdown. In fact, it contributes to ‘Zoom fatigue’. Switching back to normal phone calls a few times a week can help to combat this.
Next, encourage them to start handwriting letters to their friends. They can include pictures, small things they’ve found, gifts, drawings, and whatever else they’d like. Get in touch with their friends’ parents and ask that they encourage their children to return the letter with their own handwritten note. Having something physical to hold onto with their friends’ handwriting can be enough to make them feel closer.
Finally, consider a group lesson. Every school is conducting online learning in a different way. Unfortunately, some of these are simply recorded lessons that the student must watch on their own. Try to form study groups for your children, or take part in a group program. For example, our TedEd project will connect your kids with others learning French. This is a great way to form community connections to fight loneliness and maintain mental health during lockdown.
Talk to Your Kids About Mental Health During Lockdown
Talking to your kids about their mental health during lockdown is perhaps one of the most important things you can do to keep them healthy. We often think kids are too young to discuss things like their mental health, but in reality these conversations can be done quite easily. For in depth conversations, the AACAP has some really helpful information on how to start. It’s important that they feel like they can talk about this openly to remove feelings of shame or isolation.
For discussing COVID specifically, however, it’s important to stay calm and let them know it’s okay to feel however they’re feeling. That it’s hard for everyone, and they’re not in this alone. Ask how they’re feeling, and listen. Don’t grow impatient if they don’t tell you right away – sometimes it just takes a little time. Let them know you’re always there to chat. It’s also really important to keep them informed with facts about the disease. It’s hard for some kids to understand what a pandemic is, and rumours naturally float around. Answer their questions with facts and stay calm, collected, and reasonable.
Most importantly, remind them that this is temporary. It may feel endless right now, but with the vaccine we’re on the turn with this horrible era in human history. Some great support tips can be found here.
Stay Active, Move Around
Maintaining physical health is akin to maintaining mental health during lockdown. Excessive screen time has been linked to poor physical health, and subsequently, to poor mental health.
Every hour, ask your child to leave the laptop, computer, or tablet and walk around. For instance, many yoga classes for kids have surfaced online. While this doesn’t get them away from the screen, it can be helpful if you’re balancing homeschooling with your own work.
But don’t rely on this entirely! Make sure the screen gets shut off during a few different activity periods in the day. Get an exercise ball, or take a walk around the block. You can make this fun too. Why not start a scavenger hunt around the house? This sensory motor scavenger hunt is particularly useful for lockdown. Get inventive – why not try a dance hunt? Or, an object find hunt – find an object in the house that starts with each letter of the alphabet. The options are endless and plenty of fun.
Screen-free, Tech-free Breaks
Make sure your kids have hobbies that don’t involve technology or screen time. This is crucial to reducing their anxiety, and reducing the effects of screens on their eyesight and ability to socialise. Step away from the screen for at least five minutes every hour.
These may not 100% alleviate the feelings of loneliness that have plagued you and your family during the pandemic. However, with a strong daily routine, using these tips to break up the online day, you should find yourself managing better with happier children. And of course, it’s crucial to take some quality family time together. We often get lost in the idea that quantity of time spent – being so large in lockdown! – is of the same importance as quality. We need to remind ourselves of the bonds we have with our loved ones. Some fun family games can help us do just that.
Have you found any ways to maintain mental health during lockdown? Share them for other parents in the comments below.