worrying impact  | 

Kids ‘anxious and obsessed with cleaning’ after lockdown, says child psychologist

Child psychologist believes most Irish children will gain resilience from pandemic but their experience is linked to how parents coped
Series: Dr Malie Coyne

Series: Dr Malie Coyne

Lynne Kelleher

MOST children living through the pandemic will have become more resilient, according to a leading child psychologist.

But Dr Malie Coyne has also seen an increase in referrals to her practice of kids experiencing increased social anxiety, obsessive cleanliness and nightmares related to the pandemic.

The parenting expert is featured in a new landmark Virgin Media series, Big Year in Big School, which gives a unique fly-on-the-wall look at a class of junior infants which saw their first year at school abruptly halted in March by the pandemic.

She said: "In the weeks leading up to that the kids were saying, 'did you hear there is a virus and it's out there and it's going to kill people'. It was definitely in their conversations.

"You could see a child saying to the teacher Maria, 'how bad is it and are people dying?' and she was kind of trying to downplay it."

Big Year in Big School offers a year-long intimate window into the ups, downs, tears, tantrums and triumphs that unfold in a diverse class of children at Aston Village Educate Together in Drogheda.

The five-part series also gives a unique glimpse into what it feels like to be a child in Ireland in 2020.

"It's really unique in that you're really seeing every part of that child's development and following on personal stories of children, and that is why it is so compelling," said Dr Coyne.

"You follow their journey and inadvertently learn stuff about five-year-olds' development. The little interactions between them are just so cute.

"It's the best project I've ever worked on by far because you really got to know the children. They behaved in the most natural way."

The Virgin Media series shows children from a wide range of backgrounds in the Drogheda school.

Dr Coyne, a lecturer at NUI Galway, said the mixed reaction of the youngsters to their unscheduled break in the school year due to Covid-19 is captured by the cameras.

She said: "Initially, one or two little kids were going 'woo' thinking they were happy to be off school.

"Then this stunned silence and one child piped up and said, 'but where are we going to go now?' and it broke my heart. For these kids, school was their lives.

"Maria is an amazing teacher and their brains were developing at such a rapid rate and they were learning so much. They were so used to being in there and had finally adapted."

The child psychologist, whose book Love In Love Out - about anxiety in children - has just been published, believes children's well-being during the pandemic was very much linked to the experience of their parents.

She said: "I think where parents have struggled, children have struggled and I think where parents haven't struggled as much, kids haven't struggled as much. It's never to blame parents. All of us adults had different situations.

"Some of us were working, some of us weren't, some of us had a sick relative, some of us didn't, some of us were in the middle of a marital break-up, some of us weren't.

"It's been hard for parents to do more than survive the last few months. If you've had a row with a child or managed things in not such a good way you can apologise to them and good enough is good enough."

The clinical psychologist has had referrals to her practice from children affected by the pandemic.

"I am getting referrals of kids that have become more obsessive about cleanliness but can you blame them? My book came out on anxiety two months ago, but it was perfect timing.

"(There has been) increased anxiety, social anxiety about going back to school and going back to socialising with other children and being obsessed with cleanliness and order."

Big Year in Big School starts tonight at 9pm on Virgin Media One.

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