Stepping out of lockdown
The impact on our mental health and sleep
We’ve already started on our journey out of lockdown, with many businesses and services able to open once more. Baby groups are back on, albeit under a slightly different guise, outside meet ups can happen in small groups and days out to farms and zoos can once again be scheduled in the diary. And this is all set to ramp up a notch this month when hopefully the next phase happens on the 17th May. Whilst all of this is great for the whole family’s mental wellbeing, it’s no doubt going to be the root of anxiety for some parents and children.
It’s also Mental Health Awareness Week on 10th to 16th May, which makes it the perfect time to talk about how this pandemic has had (and will continue to have) an affect on both yours and your child’s mental health.
Your little one will pick up on your cues
It’s always worth remembering that your child will follow your lead, especially in new situations. If you’re anxious, so will they be. Children are so attuned to our feelings, without us even knowing it much of the time, so addressing your own thoughts and feelings towards steeping back out into the ‘normal’ life will always be the first helpful step for your little one too.
There’s absolutely no necessity to join your baby up to one or five baby groups or classes. They get all they need from you. One of the biggest benefits many parents have reported over the last year is the ability to just chill in the early weeks and months of having a baby. Not having a constant stream of visitors, and no pressure to join up to every baby class going.
Toddlers are a little different, they love exploring the world outside of their immediate family, socialising with their peers and running off their endless amounts of energy. But this doesn’t have to mean spending time inside – if you are only comfortable being outdoors until things ease further, then do just that. Luckily with summer round the corner and the weather warming up, there’s plenty you can do to keep them amused whilst keeping your anxieties at bay.
So just remember, if you’re not ready to make arrangements just yet, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
The biggest change your little one will experience when faced with a whole new set of experiences in a short space of time is overwhelm and overstimulation. This is especially true if they’re young enough to not remember life before the first lockdown. Even my son who’s five, can barely remember going out without constant sanitising or being told to steer clear of strangers (probably not such a problem, always an upside!).
Whilst one day we can hope for a world without sanitising our children to within an inch of their lives, for now we have to navigate the current reality. For parents with young children stepping out into a busier world, this is mostly going to be about managing their exposure to the amount of stimulation that’s increasing week on week.
A huge part of this is looking at your child’s personality. Are they confident social butterflies who take everything in their stride? Or are they the cautious, sensitive type? Reflect and assess how your child has already coped with previous new experiences and this will give you a great insight into how quickly or slowly you need to take steps forward. Are they sensitive to noise? Try going to places where the acoustics aren’t so tough on their ears whilst getting them used to sights and crowds to avoid completely overwhelming their senses. Have they shown a fear with new faces? Start off by going to low-key, less crowded groups and places before a trip out such as the farm where there’s potentially lots of other children and adults. For some children, they will relish the hustle and bustle of what once was life, but for others (including parents too!), they quite enjoy a quieter pace, so those are the children that need a gradual build up back into a post-lockdown life.
What’s more for any child, all of this increased activity and overstimulation often leads to an overtired baby…
Overtired-ness is one of the biggest sleep issues I see with young babies in particular. One of the benefits of lockdown has been the ability to take a step back into a simpler life, and really have the time to watch your baby’s cues.
What is an overtired baby, I hear you say? If you’ve never heard of the term prior to becoming a parent, you’re not alone. Many parents logically think that keeping their baby awake during the day leads to great sleep at night, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. A well rested baby will always sleep better on the nap or night following a good amount of sleep, so sleep really does breed sleep.
As we get back to busier lives once more, it’s worth being aware of the signs that your baby has potentially been awake a little too long so that you can manage their routine and help them get the sleep they need. The younger babies are, the quicker they turn (on a knife edge at times!) from happy to overtired, it can be a window as small as minutes. Whilst they get less temperamental the older they get, being overtired can stop a good nap from happening altogether. It’s also worth noting that over-stimulation is a great mask for the bridge between under and over tired!
Even toddlers can become overtired though. A missed nap or two soon mounts up, causing challenging bedtimes or early rising.
Signs your little one is getting tired:
- averting gaze/zoning out
- rubbing eyes
- pulling ears
- reduced engagement
- sudden clinginess
Signs your little one is overtired:
- fussiness, quickly leading to crying
- difficult to calm
Separation anxiety affects all children at some point in the early years (and for some, a few points!) However, a year (or for the younger ones, their entire lives) spent at home with just their parents and close family faces to gaze at, will undoubtedly cause anxiety once they start venturing out.
But what is separation anxiety? At around 6-8 months of age, babies start to understand that when a person or an object continues to exist even when they cannot be seen, heard or otherwise sensed. This leads to separation anxiety because they now have the ability to miss you!
Leaving your baby at bedtime is likely to be the time of day when separation anxiety is at it’s strongest. Though over the past year I’ve seen more young children with increased separation anxiety when starting nursery and even when going off on their at toddler groups. Understandably, they realise you are about to leave, and they may do everything they can to stop this from happening!
Helping your baby establish this area of development is key to easing separation anxiety as quickly as possible. This includes playing peek-a-boo games with your baby, and practice short bouts of separation (such as nipping out of sight briefly) to build up your baby’s trust that you will return.
Take your own sweet time
Ultimately, only you will know the best path for both you and your child towards freedom.
If you’re struggling with any sleep issues relating to the ease of restrictions, please get in touch for a chat about how we can help. You can also sign up to the HushaBoo email updates to be the first to find out about future blogs. Or follow HushaBoo on social media to chat about all things parenting…
Blogged by Emma Osborne, Paediatric Sleep Specialist, founder of HushaBoo & Mum to one little boy who is (mostly) thrilled at being back out in the big wide world again!