Coronavirus: Kids pulling hair out, scared of going back to school as lockdown anxiety rises

A quarter of Kiwi parents say their kids have been showing increased signs of anxiety thanks to the COVID-19 lockdowns.

The YMCA surveyed 500 parents and found their anxiety about the state of the world in 2020 was also rubbing off on their children.

"We've had kids who have started pulling out hair," YMCA North Out of School Care and Recreation (OSCAR) operations manager Kristina Ellson told The AM Show on Wednesday.

"We've got parents battling  to get their kids to school because they don't want to leave the house. That's really worrying... when there's probably going to be some more lockdowns." 

New Zealand has had one nationwide alert level 4 lockdown, which lasted several weeks early in 2020. Auckland has had a few more brief level 3 lockdowns, in August, February and March. At level 3, most kids can't go to school. 

"My nephew burst into tears when he got told we were going into lockdown," said Ellson. "He was like, 'But I want to go to school!' He doesn't want to be at home and mum's working - he's in the same situation most of our Kiwi kids are in." 

The survey found less than half of kids got an hour of physical activity each day under lockdowns, thanks to school and playground closures. Nearly one-in-four - 24.6 percent - of parents said they'd noticed a "significant" increase in their child's anxiety levels, including pulling out hair and showing reluctance to go back to school or even play outside.

But about half of parents said when they did manage to get their kids physically active, their mental health improved. One parent said when the gyms reopened they took their teenagers along, allowing them to burn off extra energy, "sleep better and forget their worries". 

"Kids are really resilient - they do bounce back quite quickly, but we do need to be working with them, and having parents take that time."

Kristina Ellson.
Kristina Ellson. Photo credit: The AM Show

Ellson suggests finding ways to bring outdoor activities inside - joking that with all the toilet paper people have been hoarding, toilet-roll soccer could be option.

"Maybe not toilet paper, because of the whole situation that it's needed... but rolled-up socks, or something fun. What the kids need is play that is fun." 

New Zealand has used strict, but brief lockdowns to prevent the community spread of COVID-19, taking a zero-tolerance approach that has had great success at preventing death and illness. The long-term mental health impacts of the uncertainty will only emerge in time.