Here's what a child psychologist thinks lockdown does to our kids.

This year has been a long, confusing, tough ride for all of us.

The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed our way of life - and for those in Melbourne, meant tight lockdowns for months at a time.

Families have been confined to small apartments together. Schools and childcare centres have been closed, and opportunities for children to interact with peers at playgrounds, parks and other public places have been removed.

Then there's the general anxiety that comes with a pandemic - and perhaps not quite understanding what is going on.

The Quicky explores what a pandemic and lockdown does to our kids. Post continues below audio.

So what does this mean for the brains, development and mental health of children?

Melbourne mum Heather Kelabora is seeing what a lack of socialisation is doing for her five-year-old and two-year-old children.

For the younger child, it has meant an increase in clinginess and dependency.

"My five-and-a-half year-old Viv is a really social kid, and she craves her friends," Kelabora told The Quicky.

"With every change, it kind of sets her back a little bit and she shows it through that regression."

Child psychologist Karen Young told The Quicky children are more likely to be anxious at this time.

"The way anxiety works is it takes the experiences that we go through and it stores them as a record and our brain is constantly saying 'Is this safe? Is this safe? Is this safe?', and it's referring to our memories and experiences for guidance.


"Now, we've told kids, we've given a really clear message, that it's not safe to go out there, it's not safe to touch other people and we did that for a really good reason - we need to remember that - then, one day we're going to say, 'Okay, off you go now, go back out there.'

Young said we can expect a 'hangover' in children as they re-enter the world, post-COVID.

"The brain doesn't let go of its danger cues easily, and we don't want it to. Anything that comes with that big emotional experience, which this is, will stay for longer and be more enduring."

Children play on a playground in Melbourne, on September 14. Image: Getty.


The brain relearns what 'normal' social experiences are like through exposure.

"We might see for a while, they're coming home and they're showing big anxiety after school or big tantrums or big tears, or we might see they're really resistent to going to school where they weren't before.

"That's okay. The more they go and actually get through it, the more the brain will let go of those danger cues. It's not going to be a long-term thing for them."

For new parents with babies - some which may have never had social interactions with anyone besides their parent/s due to lockdown rules - Young said there is no need to worry about these months having a detrimental impact on their newborn's development.

"Kids learn how to interact with many, be brave with many and get on with many when they experience that with one. So as long as they have a parent, or someone full-time, who is engaged, responsive, attentive, talking a lot - we have to talk a lot even if they don't understand what we're saying.

"That's what they need. The rest of it will come... Those kids will be okay too."


Young said when the time comes for us to send children back out into the big, wide world, there are a few steps that can make the transition less scary.

Firstly, it's important to acknowledge and validate that they may be feeling anxious and uncomfortable. Then, pointing out the differences between then and now will help ease their minds - for example, 'We're really on top of the virus, people have been working really hard to protect us,' etc.

The impact of long-term lockdowns may prove longer for children living in unhealthy, dangerous home situations during the pandemic, but for most children with healthy, comfortable home lives, Young does not believe there will be long-term ramifications.

"I think we will have a really resilient next generation, they've been through a lot, but all throughout history generations have been through things and have got through it... They will be okay. They will come through this."

For parents like Kelabora, the light at the end of the tunnel is keeping them going.

When the time comes, she is most looking forward to seeing her children "go and be their normal selves and feel free".

"So many grandparents out there are beside themselves not being able to see their grandchildren, ours included, so getting them back seeing those family [members] again in real life is something we're going to really treasure."

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Feature image: Daniel Pockett/Getty.