Dr Michael Carr-Gregg is one of Australia’s highest profile psychologists working in all forms of media. A successful author, speaker, broadcaster and mental health advocate, he works with children and adolescents in his private practice in Melbourne. We talked to Dr Carr-Gregg to get his thoughts on children in the time of Covid.
KWD: Having worked with children and adolescents for many years, have you found there has been an increase in the severity of mental issues they have been facing since the Covid 19 outbreak?
MCG: The relevant Associations that I work with tell me the waiting lists for child and adolescent psychologists in regional Victoria is two years, and certainly in the metropolitan area I don’t know any professionals who have appointments within nine months. It is a terrible situation.
KWD: From your point of view, what are the key triggers for these long wait times?
MCG: The widespread difficulties that students are facing are based on three key issues.
Firstly, on campus schooling has been closed on and off for 18 months now. Children have missed out on experiencing an in person education for 160 days and counting. During this period more than 40% of school hours have been spent in remote learning.
Secondly, we have cancelled community sport and closed playgrounds, skate parks, basketballs courts and netball courts, and so much more – and this has given rise to widespread feelings of isolation resulting in significant psychological problems. It was recently reported that there has been a 57% increase in self harm.
Thirdly, children are missing out on normal, everyday key development tasks – like going to school and acquiring skills for future economic independence, and hanging out with their friends. Young people are trying to figure out the answer to the question ‘who am I’, and they need the opportunity to take healthy risks. They also need emancipation from adult carers.
So it’s not surprising the accumulative effect of lockdown after lockdown has resulted in them losing the rhythm and structure of their lives which usually carries them along. Their lives have become monotonous. I think a lot of students are really struggling to maintain their schedule, and I am really worried about this impact of this for many years to come.
KWD: This sense of isolation is widespread, and not defined by age, location or socio-economic circumstance. Each student has their own story. So every parent, guardian or care giver needs ways in which they can help their children navigate this new normal?
MCG: Absolutely. Social networks are always important to children. The biggest challenge parents are facing now is how to help their children remain emotionally connected with their peers. And then if you have a neuro-diverse child, the ramifications are even more complex. Life for those who are on the spectrum was difficult before and so the restriction on their freedom makes it even more challenging – although for some not attending school has been surprisingly positive. The stress on families has been huge. And for single parents with young children, the loneliness and the pressure must be even more immense with no reprieve. You always have to be present.
KWD: Given the long waitlist times for children to receive professional assistance, are there techniques you can recommend for families that will help them cope and bring a sense of lightness to the home?
MCG: Most importantly, if the situation is critical, you need to immediately take your child to see their GP to be treated as an emergency.
Day to day, there are things that we can do. Parents and care givers need to set the emotional tone for the home. Be alert, not alarmed. Make sure you are taking things seriously and that you obey the laws, however much you don’t like them or difficult that might be.
And it is so important to look after ourselves as parents. We have to put our own oxygen mask on first, and meet our own needs for a healthy diet, outdoor exercise and a restful sleep. And we must maintain our connectedness with our community.
We need to schedule our children’s days, particularly for the little ones. Once the school day is over they need a list of activities they can enjoy, from 4pm to 4.30 and then 5pm to 5.30. So ensure your provide a routine, regular physical and creative activity, and above all, conversation and reassurance. We need to help children who have lost motivation to work out their ‘why’. We need to celebrate their wins and make sure that they get as much ‘flow’ as possible – that lovely state where you lose track of time and space. And we also need to try and create some surprises.
KWD: Our team recently launched a campaign called #myhappyspacemovement, which aims to create beautiful spaces for children where they feel safe and comfortable. What are your thoughts on the importance of children having a sanctuary they can retreat to and feel proud of?
MCG: I think it’s crucial. I was on a webinar recently with the Department of Paediatrics at the University of Melbourne, and our discussion was exactly about that. The #myhappyspacemovement is a lovely idea, something that we may have lost sight of and something that we can do in our own home to help our children feel positive in their own space. So much of their interaction with their social group is online, and mostly in their rooms. Many parents are really struggling with the amount of time their children are spending on screens, but from my point of view it’s important to choose your battles. And if screen time is the only interaction they are getting at the moment, let them enjoy it.
“Young people may only be 17% of the population, but they are 100% of the future.” Dr Michael Carr-Gregg
If you have a child or know of a child who would greatly benefit from having the KWD design team design a new bedroom for them, and then have this vision made into a reality with the support of our amazing supply partners, then join in our #myhappyspacemovement campaign.
We have created a support package for two students who will be gifted a KWD & Co. Access design consultation. We want to give these children some control back in their lives, because COVID has taken so much of that control away. They can’t control what activities they do, where they go or who they see – but with this opportunity they can control how their private space looks and feels.
Once we have talked to the beneficiaries about ‘their’ space and how ‘they’ want it to look, we will work with our supply partners and trades to make their happy space a reality – make their dream come true. I want these children to have a sanctuary. A safe space and an environment that they feel proud of, and they are happy to share with their friends, particularly during online classes, house parties and Zoom catch ups. I am so passionate about creating spaces that ‘feel’ good. It’s not just about how it looks – it’s about how the space makes you feel.
As my daughter so succinctly said: “The people I’m with, and the space I’m in completely impacts my mood. I get my vibe from my space. And if the space is beautiful, it’s a happy vibe.”
Simply head to the KWD & Co. Instagram page, make a comment about what the #myhappyspacemoment means to you, and send us a DM with your nomination telling us in 200 words or less why your nominee needs a bedroom makeover. Let’s make happy spaces, one room at a time, one smile at a time.
Nominations close October 25th, check out the T & Cs here: https://bit.ly/3C7VINn