Things parents can still do today to help their child in lockdown – Priory child psychiatrist
With a fortnight to go before schools reopen, top Priory expert launches new free-to-view video advice for parents
- As the PM announces that schools in England will return on March 8, Dr Hayley van Zwanenberg talks sleep, diet, discipline and screen time
- Video includes audio clip of 13-year-old – followed by practical tips
- Psychiatrist urges parents: ‘Don’t confiscate a device as a punishment for poor behaviour – these have become a lifeline for young people’
- Says numbers of young people seeking help with mental health has spiralled
- “Actively listening” to children involves eye contact, and putting down the phone and turning off the TV
With schools in England not opening until early March, and the Easter holidays then looming with many Covid restrictions still in place, Dr Hayley van Zwanenberg, of Priory’s Oxford Wellbeing Centre, lays out a strategy to help parents and carers navigate a way through.
Her comments come after a Mumsnet survey of home-schooling parents found three quarters thought their children were now demotivated and disengaged, while experts say that teenagers, particularly, have been struggling with lack of social interaction.
Dr van Zwanenberg, a child and adolescent psychiatrist who has been treating children and adolescents throughout the pandemic, says she is acutely aware of difficulties, exemplified by the soaring number of new patients.
“I really believe the impact on teenagers and young people has been huge. It is so important for adults and parents to be on hand to support young people, listen to their worries, encourage them to talk, help them to think of ways to reduce the boredom, and stop any negative thoughts spiralling out of control. Above all, try to reassure them that you’ve ‘got their back’ and you’re their ‘safety net’.
In the 45-minute webcast, Dr van Zwanenberg doesn’t shy away from the fact that the uncertainty of lockdown brought immense challenges and frayed emotions – for parents and their children. As such, she has developed a wealth of practical tips on how to best manage at home, and highlighted the importance of ‘positive role modelling’. She explains that, even though they may rarely admit it, teenagers will absorb, respond and mirror their parents’ behaviour.
To view the full version of Dr Hayley van Zwanenberg’s webinar, visit the link below:
To help busy parents, the webcast is in three key sections:
- Firstly, looking at family communication at home, it encourages parents to think about how they are talking to one another, how to keep emotions in check and when to step away and take ‘time out’. Try not to ‘say things you don’t really mean’ - something that is not always easy when many families are all spending so much time together.’ This section of the webinar focuses on thinking about ‘leading by example’ and how patterns of communication or ‘triggering conversations’ can cause unnecessary arguments. Try to communicate rationally and wisely rather than with an ‘emotional mindset’.
- Secondly, Dr van Zwanenberg includes an interview with a 13-year-old boy about his personal experiences of coping in lockdown – followed by useful tips about maintaining routine, healthy eating, exercise and most importantly, developing good ‘sleep hygiene’ (e.g. regular bedtimes, getting up at the same time every day, devices turned off one hour before sleep). Dr van Zwanenberg explains the importance of trying not to do anything other than sleep on your bed – something, she recognises is currently easier said than done with many young people now in the habit of lying with a laptop on their bed all day, whether doing school work, ‘socialising’ or gaming. As a result, the brain simply stops associating bed with sleep, she says. “I can’t stress enough how important it is to maintain a routine and structure in these times that can feel a bit ‘chaotic’. Sometimes, I will be working with a family and will have a 4pm Zoom meeting scheduled but when we ‘connect’, the young person will still be under the covers, still in their pyjamas and not showered. This is just not healthy or helpful, however tempting it might feel.”
- Finally, the webinar covers how difficult it can be to tell if a young person is being a ‘typical teenager’ or whether they are seriously struggling with their mental health. This section explores different advice and tips on when and how to help these young people with extra support beyond the family with something like online therapy. To illustrate this scenario, ‘real life’ audio with a 17-year-old girl (who has experienced distress, anxiety and fears for the future during the lockdown) highlights how she went on to develop positive coping strategies and open lines of communication with her parents.Other practical tips discussed in the webcast include;
- Eat regularly and healthily – don’t skip breakfast, aim for 3 meals a day, with a morning and afternoon snack to help maintain a steady blood sugar level
- Try not to nap during the day - whilst it can be very tempting when stuck at home, it can play havoc with your sleeping patterns
- Parents should choose ‘appropriate and fair’ consequences for poor behaviour in the home - if a teenager has been rude to their dad, for example, don’t immediately confiscate their phone. This is disproportionate and antagonist in the current state of isolation from friends. Instead, insist they say sorry and suggest they do something proactive to make up for it such as washing up or cleaning the car
- Try to trust teenagers and allow them to self-manage their screen time and reliance on devices – give them the facts and truthful evidence, e.g. the effect of digital devices on melatonin levels (a natural hormone that helps control sleep cycles) and they will eventually take it on board and will appreciate being given responsibility rather than ‘orders’
- Set achievable goals and have ‘small pleasures’ to look forward to - recognise that the big treats such as foreign holidays and concerts are currently out of reach but try to celebrate and validate other ‘quick wins’ such as an occasional, indulgent hot chocolate
- Gaming and screen time is not always bad – right now, it’s the only way of communicating, unwinding and socialising with friends at the end of the day. But do insist on switching to a book, podcast or music at least an hour before sleep
- If a young person has opened-up about (ever) having considered harming themselves or wanting to replace their feelings of emotional anguish with physical pain, Dr van Zwanenberg introduces recognised and safe tactics such as squeezing and crushing ice cubes in your hand or placing ice on the back of your neck. This will create a distracting sensation of pain, but will not cause any har
- Dr van Zwanenberg concludes the webcast with advice on when to seek professional help via the GP or directly with the Priory, as well as links to helplines and charities that teenagers might want to access for themselves
Notes to editors
Photos attached of Dr van Zwanenberg
For further information, or to interview Dr van Zwanenberg, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
About Priory Group
The Priory Group is the leading provider of behavioural care in the UK, caring for around 30,000 people a year for conditions including depression, anxiety, drugs and alcohol addiction, eating disorders and self-harming. The Group is organised into four divisions – healthcare, education and children’s services, adult care and the Middle East.