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A three-day inconvenience for many - but a return to fear and loathing for our kids

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Greater Brisbane’s three-day lockdown might shape as an inconvenience for some, and a business blow to others. But for young children, it’s a return to their worst fears about the pandemic, writes Madonna King

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“At the end of this pandemic, will life ever go back to normal?’’ That’s a question asked by a 10-year-old girl, during last year’s lockdown. “And when family are sick, will they ever get better?’’

Other 10-year-olds told of being scared, not able to sleep unless one of their parents was lying in bed with them, how they cried about not seeing their friends and being pulled out of ballet and scouts, and how they feared someone in their family, particularly their grandparents, might die.

What might be the impact on our children of this ongoing pandemic, and Queensland’s latest lockdown? That was part of my research in Ten-Ager: What your daughter needs you to know about the transition from child to teen.

And my take-out? Don’t underestimate the power of this week to leave a stubborn mark on our tween girls.

UNICEF Australia found that only half of boys and 38 percent of girls, aged 13 to 17, were coping well in mid-2020. It might be higher for this younger cohort, given the response of some parents of tween girls in my research.

‘She does not want us to use the word “corona” anymore.’
‘She is lonely but doesn’t know how to reach out to her friendship groups.’
‘I’m in treatment for breast cancer so she’s worried I will die if I get the virus.’
‘I’m a doctor so I’m working huge hours and often exhausted. She is envious of her friends who have their mums at home.’
‘She keeps going over and over the problems (i.e. Why would someone eat a bat?).’
‘She was very upset the Easter bonnet parade was cancelled. She has made some badges saying “Corona Virus Survivor”.’
‘She was washing her hands so much they were cracking and bleeding. She wasn’t sleeping because she caught a cough and kept panicking that she had COVID.’

Some children thrived with the school gates closed and sporting matches cancelled. Many shy girls shone in home-schooling. So did others on the autism spectrum.

Anxiety levels dipped for others, with home providing a sanctuary away from friendship fights and competition. “She is thriving as a result,’’ one mother told me. “The decreased stress and pressure and no school have meant that we’ve seen a marked difference in behaviour and tantrums.”

The time fathers, working at home, and daughters spent together served as a spectacular silver lining for both.

But the uncertainty around COVID drowned the happiness of so many girls. Some lost the ability to talk to friends, in real life.

Smart phones flourished, with many parents now regretting the generous gift they provided for a 10th birthday. Later bedtimes also became more popular, providing a challenge for schools. Some schools have been contacting families to plead with parents to enact earlier and more consistent sleep patterns.

As parents, we can see how lucky Australia has been, and the impact a vaccine will make. But for our children that ongoing uncertainty has just been bolstered.

Empty toilet paper shelves. Again. School shut. Again. Sport cancelled. Dance cancelled. Friends and grandparents out of bounds.

GPs and psychologists and school councillors saw how COVID, last year, delivered anxiety, sleepless nights and too many nightmares.

Teachers saw it when girls returned to school – in their writing, in the pictures they drew: a big black monster watching the family from the lounge-room window, or a hulking figure knocking at the door. They saw it, too, in the loss of socialisation skills in some friendship groups, and in a dip in motivation in others.

What struck me during my research was how brutal many girls were of their mothers, who worked during lockdown. “I loved that my dad finally stayed home and I got to know him for the first time in my life,’’says Anna.

But what she remembers of her mother’s role as a GP, she says, is that she would arrive home and not hug her – until she’d had a shower. “She chose them [people who required testing], not me,’’ Anna says. “She was at work testing and looking after people, and my sister and I had to look after ourselves.’’

Why are so many girls so harsh in judging their mothers? That’s a column for another time, but with the new rash of headlines and daily press conferences and the on-again, off-again threat to the Easter Bunny’s hop, it’s worth looking at this latest week through the prism of our children.

Professor Sarah Blunden, the head of paediatric sleep research and a lecturer in clinical psychology at Central Queensland University, says part of the problem is the lack of control we have during this pandemic.
“It’s not just about sleeping. It’s about everything,’’ she says. “But when you are lying in bed at night, trying to sleep, and you’ve got less activity going on in your brain and your body, what’s going to come in? What are you thinking about? Worries. And what are you going to worry about? The most relevant thing on everybody’s mind. And ten-year-olds are going to be struggling much more than you or me.’’

Ten-Ager, What Your Daughter needs you to know about the transition from child to teen, is available now.

 

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