How Auckland children are being affected by another lockdown

From First Up, 5:37 am on 3 March 2021

It has been a year since New Zealand's first case of Covid-19, with more than a quarter of a million Auckland school students now spending their ninth week learning from home in lockdown.

Child drawing outside on footpath with chalk.

Being alone and away from familiar classroom environments can cause anxiety for kids. Photo: 123RF

And they're not just missing out on classroom time. Sport, after school activities and playdates have also been cancelled.

So how will this impact on the mental health of our children, particularly those in Auckland?

Kate Palmer, an Auckland mum of four children, is living through their fourth lockdown in less than 12 months.

"You know, Neve is about to face her second birthday in lockdown. We didn't have Easter last year. They ask if we're going somewhere and we say 'maybe?'"

Her nine-year-old daughter Neve and 12-year-old son Coen are suffering from lockdown anxiety after missing nine weeks of classroom time staying home.

"Neve in particular was really struggling with her emotions and I think that was a case of being stuck in the house. She suddenly felt very distanced from her friends. What we also noticed was that she wasn't coping with online learning at all and in fact the Zoom daily calls with her teacher in class were making her feel more distanced from her friends and the real world than anything else."

"Coen, bless him, is lazy, very intelligent but lazy. And so he soon worked out that he could do all his school work with the minimum effort and then go gaming," she said. 

And Neve and Coen aren't the only ones.

Teenager Tayla Hinton, a year 10 at St Mary's High School in Auckland's Ponsonby, says although the lockdowns are necessary it is frustrating to see events she was looking forward to, cancelled.

"There have been a lot of negatives. Like all of the opportunities I've been forced to miss out on.

"I thought that 2021 was going to be a fresh start but Covid actually came back to bite us."

She said some of her peers were falling behind in their schoolwork because of the distractions of home-schooling and a lack of resources.

"I reckon a lot of people are really struggling, just it's not easy to learn online when you don't have the correct facilities and it can be incredible stressful on you just knowing that Covid is there."

Tom Garlan, a year 13 student at Westlake Boys High School on Auckland's North shore, says his teachers gave them too much work and he finds online learning very hard.

"It's really stressful to the point where sometimes I just really don't want to do anything... It's not an environment I want to be in so I just to try to compose myself and try not get too stressed."

Tom said he mainly just missed his friends. 

"Most of the time it's just been really lonely ever since the pandemic started because you just want to see people, you want to have that human interaction that you had in school and that you don't have in your home environment. It really does make you sad that you can't see the people that you have built a relationship with." 

Dr Sarah Watson, a senior clinical psychologist and clinic director at Totally Psyched - a private mental health clinic, says she has seen a significant increase in mood disorders in children and teenagers over the course of the pandemic.

Specifically, anxiety, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

"For those that are more vulnerable it's likely to have ongoing effects because they've been challenged in ways that they otherwise wouldn't have been potentially. And having to deal with that means that they're experiencing the anxiety. Or in adolescence we've seen an increase in low mood more than they otherwise could or would have."

She said each time there is another lockdown a child's capability to manage their own emotions gets less and less because there is more and more stress on their system.

Mother Kate Palmer said the stress had been serious for her children. Coen, 12, is unable to sleep at night and Neve is now afraid of planes flying overhead and the sound of loud sirens.

"It's terrible and each lockdown you suddenly remember the last one and all the anxiety it produces. Every time we tell the children, there's tears. All the bad memories resurface, and you have to counsel them through and talk about the good things because we have had some really beautiful moments that we've introduced as a result of lockdowns."

Dr Watson says lockdowns will undoubtedly have long-term effects on children's mental health but in some cases, there could be some positives. 

"For some children this is helping build their resilience. So, we've got kind of two sides of that coin those that are responding extremely well and are proving to be more adaptable but it's just that those who aren't, are really struggling and I would say that there probably are more of them."

She has some advice to parents. 

"Don't pretend like nothing is going on but at the same time don't allow the worrying to go on for too long - talk about it, answer questions and then help them move on to something else, distract themselves so that they're not sitting in their heads with that worry for long periods of time."
Watson encourages anyone who has noticed changes in their child's behaviour and moods to seek support from their GP. 


Where to get help:

Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason.

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 or text HELP to 4357

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7) or text 4202

Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)

Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email

What's Up: online chat (3pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 helpline (12pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-11pm weekends)

Kidsline (ages 5-18): 0800 543 754 (24/7)

Rural Support Trust Helpline: 0800 787 254

Healthline: 0800 611 116

Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.