In February 2022, the Department of Education released its annual State of the Nation report, looking at children and young people in education during the 2020/21 academic year.
As this covers the time of the coronavirus pandemic, the report sheds light on how those aged 5 and over have been affected by, and recovered from, the pandemic as a whole.
Findings of the report
It goes without saying that the pandemic hit many of us hard, regardless of our age. Being in isolation from our friends, family, colleagues, and classmates brought feelings of loneliness to the surface, whilst the uncertainty of the lockdowns fostered feelings of anxiety.
Thus, it is no surprise that the mental health of children and young people took a knock during the pandemic. The State of the Nation report highlights that the biggest drop in wellbeing corresponded with the school closures of February 2021.
Now that schools have reopened, the report found positive mental health improvements in children and young people since the start of the pandemic. This improvement supports a link between wellbeing and school attendance, as those who reported having a higher wellbeing rating were more likely to attend school regularly.
At this time, over 8,000 schools and colleges have also applied for a senior mental health lead training grant, part of a commitment to make nearly 400 mental health support teams accessible to almost three million pupils by 2023.
But, how can we support mental wellness in children and young people at home?
If children are hesitant to return to school, or you are beginning to notice mental health issues outside of school, there are many ways that we can support the mental wellness of children and young people at home, including:
1. Give them the freedom to play
Playing can give children the freedom to have fun, be creative, and connect with others. Encourage them to play both indoors and outdoors, using their favourite toys or activities. It can help if this is part of an interactive game – such as using kids ride on Lamborghini’s to pretend to be a racing car driver – to improve their overall mood, or as a distraction whilst you investigate what might be bothering them.
2. Be present and listen
Set aside some time to listen to what your child has to say. This could be whilst they are playing, and whilst they are distracted, or a specific time dedicated to talking about their feelings.
3. Encourage routines
Encourage healthy routines in their day that boost not only mental health but physical health too. The structure of the day can have a positive impact on mental health, and ease the anxieties surrounding uncertainty.
4. Don’t brush their emotions off
They may be children, but this does not make their feelings any less valid. Make sure to take what they say seriously, and support them by offering practical and emotional support through the hard times.
5. Spot the signs something is wrong, and ask a professional
If you are concerned about your child’s wellbeing, or have noticed a change in their habits or behaviour, you can access children and young people’s mental health services (CYPMHS) through your GP on the NHS.