How to safeguard your child’s wellbeing during the pandemic

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  Published on Wednesday, 07 April 2021

How to safeguard your child’s wellbeing during the pandemic

Library Home  >  Health, Wellbeing & NutritionParenting & Family Life
  Published on Wednesday, 07 April 2021
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COVID-19 has sent shockwaves through the global community, and Australian schoolkids aren’t immune from its impact.

Over the last year, our children have been pivoted into new ways of moving, learning and socialising, and a survey by Camp Australia has revealed the physical and mental effects of the pandemic on our kids.

Here, we take a look at their findings, and see how you can support your school-aged child as COVID-19 continues to disrupt our world.

How has the pandemic affected our school children?

Camp Australia is a national provider of outside school hours care (OSHC) and they surveyed 1,137 parents and 124 school principals to identify the main ways that COVID-19 has impacted primary school-aged children.

Reduced physical wellbeing, increased screen time and emotional disconnection emerged as the top three impacts of the pandemic, and specifically:

  • 69 per cent of parents and 90 per cent of principals reported a decrease in children’s physical wellbeing and a loss of participation in sport,
  • 88 per cent of parents and 96 per cent of principals said that increased screen time had affected their children, and
  • 80 per cent of parents and 93 per cent of principals said the pandemic has caused children to feel disconnected from friends and family.

These concerns will resonate with many of us, and there are a few reasons why children have been impacted in these ways.

Sport and exercise academic, Associate Professor Tracy Kolbe-Alexander told ABC News that pandemic-related pauses and restrictions on school sport and organised sport have reduced children’s opportunities to interact with friends and be physically active.

A flow on effect of this is that children may have ended up spending more time sitting down, watching screens.

Dr Kolbe-Alexander says a loss of ‘incidental activity’ during lockdown and home-schooling also had an effect, with children missing out on opportunities to walk to and from school or run around at lunch.

It’s understandable, too, that our children are feeling disconnected from family and friends, with social distancing, closed borders and internet issues impacting everyone’s usual ways of seeing, talking and bonding with one another.

There is good news, though, because the Camp Australia survey found a great resilience in our school children. When youngsters were asked to describe 2020, the top three words used among 1,200 respondents were, ‘fun’, ‘good’ and ‘happy,’ and the pandemic has had some unexpected upsides.

Anecdotally, some children loved being home-schooled and enjoyed spending more time with their parents.

Exercise-wise, Dr Kolbe-Alexander says some families were also able to share in, ‘Positive unintended [opportunities] to get physically active together’ during lockdown and home learning.

How much physical activity and screen time should primary school-aged children have?

Although COVID-19 has disrupted our children’s normal education and entertainment in the last year, the government sets out clear guidelines around how much physical activity and screen time ages five to 17 should get each day.

Its 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Young People say youngsters should:

  • Accumulate 60 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day, involving mostly aerobic activities,
  • Achieve several hours of a variety of light physical activities,
  • Limit sedentary recreational screen time to no more than two hours a day, and
  • Break up long periods of sitting as often as possible.

Children and teens should do activities that are vigorous, as well as those that strengthen muscle and bone, at least three times a week.

Children aged five to 13 also need nine to 11 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night, and consistent bed and wake-up times.

The government says it’s important to, ‘Achieve the recommended balance of high levels of physical activity, low levels of sedentary behaviour and sufficient sleep’ for optimal health benefits, and this careful balance has benefits for children’s bodies and brains.

Raising Children explains that physical activity:

  • Strengthens kids’ bones, muscles, heart and lungs,
  • Improves coordination, balance, flexibility and posture,
  • Helps youngsters to be a healthy weight,
  • Reduces their risk of getting some illnesses in later life,
  • Can boost confidence and a feeling of ‘belonging’,
  • Can improve concentration at school,
  • Aids with relaxation and sleep, and
  • Encourages positive social behaviours (e.g. sharing, turn-taking and cooperation).

Physical activity is an integral part of play and learning; and, all in all, Raising Children says this body movement is, ‘Vital for children’s health, wellbeing and development, now and in the future.’

How can parents strike a healthy balance between play time, screen time and sleep time?

With almost one quarter of five to 17-year-olds being overweight or obese, and only 55 per cent of Aussie children playing outside every day, it’s very important that we adhere to the above guidelines and find a healthy balance between movement and rest.

The Department of Health suggests that we:

  • Encourage our kids to play active games, e.g. tag, frisbee and obstacle courses,
  • Visit playgrounds, parks, nature reserves, ovals and/or beaches,
  • Get our children involved in a range of different sports and activities, e.g. soccer, gardening, after dinner walks, dance and/or martial arts,
  • Include incidental exercise in their day, e.g. by walking to school or parking the car some distance away, and
  • Stick to the screen guidelines and follow screen rules at home, e.g. no screens at dinner, before school or in the bedroom.

Gifts of kites, skipping ropes or balls can encourage active play, and instead of rewarding children with TV or computer time, the government suggests a trip to the park or bike track.

If you’re looking for inspiration, Nature Play has a variety of exercise, yoga and dance resources for families, and the Canadian site, Active for Life, has lots of physical activity ideas for ages one to 12.

What should you do if you’re worried about your child’s wellbeing?

The pandemic has impacted all of us in different ways, and it’s important to keep an eye on your child’s wellbeing, and seek help if needed.

Australian Medical Association Queensland President, Chris Perry says ongoing chatter about the dangers of COVID-19 can cause some young children to ‘worry unnecessarily,’ and he encourages parents to look for these signs of decreased wellbeing:

  • Complaints of continued bad sleep
  • Seeming easily overwhelmed
  • Becoming easily startled
  • Saying no to social invitations
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Problems performing at school
  • Increased or unreasonable irritability

If your child is exhibiting these signs, or you’re worried about their wellbeing, Professor Perry advises you to seek help from your GP.

We can’t get away from the fact that the pandemic has created upheaval like our children have never known and it’s impacted the way they move, interact and feel, but we can support our youngsters through these unsettling times.

The 24-Hour Movement Guidelines are relevant now and through all the years of childhood, and we wish your family well in staying healthy, happy and active.

Key reference

ABC News

Further reading

Key ways to support your child’s mental health

Establishing a great night routine for your family

How technoference impacts modern families

This child care article was last reviewed or updated on Tuesday, 06 April 2021

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