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What has it been like counselling young people during a Pandemic? Pretty s**t to be honest.

The young people themselves have been inspirational to say the least but hearing the impact this pandemic has had on their lives has been soul destroying. If you think we have it hard as adults, you can almost guarantee that there are some aspect of life adaptations that have been twice as hard for young people. Securely formed relationships, experiences of critical thinking , resilience building skills and a lifetime of coping strategies in our toolboxes of life gives us the ability to think outside the box of the global pandemic that we find ourselves in yet, we are still struggling. These character-building qualities that we have gone through as adults are areas that have yet to be gifted upon the young which makes their life that much more difficult.

Adding to that, many have laid blame at the feet of young people through the narrative in the media that they are ‘super spreaders and a breeding ground for the virus’, has not helped protect the mental health of young people at all. From listening to young people speak for the last ten months about how they have felt about being seen like this by many, they are whole heartedly doing everything that can to avoid being the super spreaders that they are called. They want to avoid contact with their vulnerable relatives and do whatever they can to keep their loved ones safe, but this is one thing we rarely hear of in the media where the blame game is very much alive.

Babies born during or just before Lockdown are growing up in a world that is strange to say the least and has the potential to have  a negative impact on their development in many ways. Being born into a family with highly anxious parents is less than ideal but is a reality for many babies. Parents losing jobs, financial insecurity, concerns of health risks and deteriorating mental health will undoubtedly have an adverse effect on children’s development through no fault of anyone involved. Early year settings have seen an increase in delayed early development milestone such as toilet training and feeding skills such as use of cutlery, due to many childcare facility provisions being restricted and families being overwhelmed with life demands leaving them less time to dedicate to these nurturing skills. Again, nobody is to blame, it is a biproduct of where we all are collectively.

Families that are living in fear and doing their best to protect their loved ones from getting ill or passing anything on, are in turn isolating themselves from the support networks that were once part of their children’s everyday life. As the child’s world gets  smaller and smaller with schools closing and family gatherings a distant memory, the only place that they can begin to heal is at home unless of course home is not a safe space. With domestic abuse incidents ever increasing and welfare checks from closed schools being ever more difficult, children need support now more than ever.

Being in lockdown has not only held negativity but it has  also brought about its bonuses. From learning new skills to working from home in our pyjamas, if we look hard enough, we can find as many positives as negatives. Working with young people is no different and school related issues have become less of an issue for some as young people are forced to work from home. For children suffering issues such as bullying, and social anxiety for example have reported an increase in happiness due to school closures. Children with disabilities who find school unbearable at the best of times, are happier in their own secure surroundings where they are understood and accepted for who they are.

How can we help to enhance the lives of the children and young people in our lives? It may be easier than you think? Spending hundreds of hours listening to what young people really want during a pandemic has taught me a lot about the value of simplicity and acceptance. Treating a young person with equality should not be just an ideal that is hard to put into everyday practice as we navigate  our way through parenting a teen, but is a basic human right for them just as it is for us. Intergenerational voices work best when in harmony so what can  we do to help? Here are a few tips that can help both you and the young person in your life live a happier life.

1.Allow them the right amount of space

Too much nor too little will work, but somewhere in between is ideal. When a young person who retreats into the safety of their less than hygienic bedroom, they are doing so because they need too. It is nothing personal, but they need space . Laying in their beds for most of the day is just part of the evolving teenage brain so why try and change the inevitable. Us lounging on the sofa after  either a hard day at work or a boring day of doing nothing tires us out as it does to them too.

It is also as important to connect to prevent feelings of isolations creeping in so scheduling in suitable time for family activities  that you all agree on is important. Rediscover the fun you used to have when the children were younger and get the Play Dough out. Choose something that reminds you all of happier times and decide as a family what the right amount of space works for everyone.

2. Relax the routines.

The brain loves a bit of pattern and predictability but being a slave to tightly scheduled days can be as detrimental as having no routine at all.  Routines work best when no changes ever happen in life but if there is one thing that we have all learnt during the pandemic is that change in life is inevitable. Children brought up with an extremely strict daily routine can have their worlds turned upside down when they are forced into a situation they have never been in before. Anxieties, uncertainty, lower adaptive skills, and impaired decision-making skills can all result when things are the opposite of having nothing but structure in a day.

We know that the world of play needs unstructured play along with structured play to allow the imagination to grow and life is no different than that. Questioning whether the family routine suits you alone, as opposed to the needs of the whole family can help. Exposing children and young people to change and decision making is helping them build cooperative skills for the relationship now and in the future.

3. Sleeping patterns are individual.

A new-born baby can sleep an average of 17 hours a day, a 5-year-old up to 10  hours a day and 8-year-old  7 hours a day. When it comes to teenagers just scrap all that. As the teenage brain parties on until 4am and sleeps in until noon at the earliest, we need to make exceptions. They are not purposely annoying you when you can hear them up and about in their bedroom , they are just doing what the brain is meant to do. Asking a 14-year-old to be sleeping by 9pm is like asking you to stay awake until 4am. Unrealistic and never going to happen.

Sleep for most people has changed during the pandemic and many of us have been invited back into the world of the teenage brain as thoughts and worries keep us awake at night. Try and help them develop a good sleep hygiene plan that helps them sleep for a length of time that suits them, not necessarily you. If it does not work, be patient as this stage in their life will not last forever. Giving them a hard time about not being able to sleep will not help but understanding will. If they need a mid afternoon nap so be it.

4. Listen to what they are not saying

If you see a change in your young person, ask them about it and really listen to what they have to say, if they do not want to talk to you, make sure they are talking to someone. Do not be offended if you are not the one that they want to confide in, see it as a compliment. It is so hard to talk openly about emotional issues with those closest to us as we do not want to hurt them. Whether it is a family bereavement or an issue with identity, they sometimes need to speak to someone who is that one step removed from them to be able to open freely without feeling judged or hurting a loved one.

If you notice a change in behaviour such as severe withdraw  or being stuck in one emotion (anger, sadness etc) start the conversation. Offer them unconditional love and support and if that fails, research with them to identify a place that they can talk whether it be with another family member or with a counsellor or online charity. Reassuring them that you are there when they need to talk is all that is needed sometimes to help them feel safe to open up

5. Show gratitude more than regret.

You are the best teacher that they will ever meet so use it wisely. If you are always complaining about everything that is wrong in life, they will see a life full of disappointment. If talk about a life full of fear, then you are teaching your child that the world is an unsafe place. You cannot expect your child to find the happiness in life if you have never showed them where to look. When your child catches you smiling at your playful kitten, they will learn to love cats. When you show them that they are loved no matter what, they will learn to love the flaws in others. as much as their strengths.

Explore together situations in life that bring both good and bad reactions.  Be grateful that they got the motivation to sign into half their online lessons and not focus on the missed ones. Be thankful that you have had more time together as a family at home and not on an expensive holiday. Thank them for helping in what they do and not highlight everything they do not do around the house. They are doing their best so acknowledge this.

Life will not be like this forever, but it is like this for now so let us learn to embrace more and judge less. The mask you are wearing that shows the  world  that you are holding everything together , could be the same mask that your child is wearing too so unsubscribe to the masquerade in life and choose a different way to connect with your mini me in life.