Improving children’s mental health after lockdown - tips for anxiety
After almost three months in lockdown 3.0, outdoor sport facilities were granted the right to reopen as of 28th March 2021. Whilst many clubs cheered from the sidelines and set about preparing training schedules for the new season, there were stirrings of a more anxious nature from some of the smaller club members; our children.
In this article we discuss how lockdown may have affected children’s mental health, how you can spot if your child is anxious and how team sport could reduce anxiety in children.
Anxiety in Children
Anxiety in ChildrenJust like adults, children feel worried and anxious at times. Normal societal pressures, perhaps wanting to fit in, perhaps being bullied for not fitting in, the pressure that school work or exams can naturally inflict, changes in hormones and their bodies, a newfound understanding of the scary big world around them.
Add the past year with all its uncertainties, parents being stressed trying to work from home and homeschool, back to school, home again, back to school, home again. Not seeing friends or being able to cuddle family members. Our little people have been through a whirlwind of a year so it’s no surprise that some may have picked up a little anxiety about the future along the way.
Mental health charity Young Minds says that some of the top factors that can cause anxiety in children include:
Experiencing lots of change in a short space of time
Having responsibilities that are beyond their age and development
Experiencing family stress around things like housing, money and debt
Struggling at school, including feeling overwhelmed by work, exams or peer groups
See how Laceeze got involved with raising awareness of mental health with Young Minds.
When is Anxiety in Children a Problem?
Anxiety becomes a problem for children when it starts to get in the way of their everyday life.
If you walk into a school at exam time, all the children there will be anxious. However, some may be so anxious they are physically ill or don't manage to get to school that morning at all.
Severe anxiety that affects a child’s day to day life can harm children's mental health and emotional wellbeing which in turn affects their self-esteem and confidence. They may become withdrawn and go to great lengths to avoid things or situations that make them feel anxious.
How to Spot Anxiety in Children
When young children feel anxious, they cannot always understand or express what they are feeling. The NHS list the following as possible symptoms of anxiety in children:
- Become irritable, tearful or clingy
- Have difficulty sleeping
- Wake in the night
- Start wetting the bed
- Have bad dreams
In older children you may notice they:
- Lack confidence to try new things or seem unable to face simple, everyday challenges
- Find it hard to concentrate
- Have problems with sleeping or eating
- Have angry outbursts
- Have a lot of negative thoughts, or keep thinking that bad things are going to happen
- Start avoiding everyday activities, such as seeing friends, going out in public or going to school
If you are concerned that your child may be suffering from anxiety, please seek advice from your family doctor. You can find out more about the symptoms of anxiety on the NHS's page about anxiety disorders in children.
Children’s Mental Health and Exercise
There are many studies which have shown a link between physical activity and improved mental health. Exercise can help with:
- Better sleep
- Happier moods – physical activity releases feel-good hormones that give you more energy
- Managing stress, anxiety – exercise releases cortisol which helps us manage stress
- Better self-esteem – especially when attaining goals
- Making connections – doing group or team activities can help you meet new and like-minded people, and make new friends
When asked about the benefits of both exercise and social connection in relation to children’s mental health, Michelle Griffiths-Reeve, accredited CBT therapist at Psychology to Succeed said:
“Team sports provide an ideal place to engage in both, as well as providing a microcosm for building resilience and an individual’s self-concept, both of which are interrelated and have a huge role to play in both preventing and recovery from mental health problems.
All sports come with both highs and lows. Going through these as a group enables us to learn how best to manage compliments and success, as well as mistakes and losses. As the experience is shared within the team, it also becomes normalised to talk about how we feel. These key skills develop our resilience for life as a whole, enabling us to face stressors in a way that is protective for our mental health.”
Read our article Just a Few Reasons Why Kids Should Play Sport
The fact organised sport is one of the first things to reopen underlines its importance to health and wellbeing. We hope many people feel confident to get back out there and enjoy it but some children may be lacking in confidence after the prolonged break from their usual sporting activities.
Anxiety about not meeting the level of their pre-lockdown performances, fear they may not meet their coaches' expectations. These may be some of the barriers that your child is facing right now. So, how can you help?
Try to talk to your child - find out what their exact fears are before deciding on the best course of action. It might be an idea to sit down with your child’s coach and talk through these anxieties together.
Ease back in - work with your coaches and providers to ensure they understand the need to ‘go easy’ on your child. Encourage your child to make small, manageable changes to increase strength and stamina, as well as confidence. Take it slow and celebrate small wins. Encourage your child not to give themselves a hard time on days they do not meet their own expectations or goals.
Emphasise the enjoyment factor - ensure you highlight how the coming months will be highly enjoyable and fun. Not only with the sport itself but with the warmer weather and longer days too. Give your child something to look forward to.
“How we see ourselves has a huge role to play in how we cope with life stressors and our susceptibility to mental health difficulties. Team sports provides an ideal opportunity to build self-esteem, develop a growth mindset, learn that other people can be trusted and supportive, and know that we can cope with the challenges the world can throw at us.
The multifaceted environment of a sports team is ideal for both laying the foundation for and building these helpful beliefs, and therefore providing a platform for good, life-long mental health.”
Laceeze are determined to make sport accessible to all children in the UK. Read more about the Laceeze Foundation here >>
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