The signs of childhood stress and depression in the “New Normal”

Child with potential anxiety and depression during Coronavirus lockdown

As parents we get it. We keep our kids fed, watered, and occupied. And that is an easy thing to do when school is in. Apart from the normal hours spent at school on a daily basis, there are extra-murals at school, and activities outside of school, to nurture their bodies and minds. We do this, as parents. We enroll them in sports and cultural activities. We provide. We create distractions and we educate, stimulate, and nurture.

You would agree, though, that the times we are living in now are not the times we are used to and - worse - not the times that the children are used to. The “old normal” is out of the window. They don’t see their friends and receive the stimulation and input they are used to. School extra-murals are closed. So is art, culture, and sports. Whether we realise it or not, these times are taking their toll, sometimes in ways we don’t feel we have control over.

A Silicon Valley giant, in a recent tweet, mentioned this very problem.

Now, you would assume that a guy with those kinds of resources would be able to provide stimulation sufficient to stem the tide, but apparently the opposite is true. It's apparent that the more he watched his own children, the more he started spotting the - sometimes tiny - signs of stress. At best, stress; at worst, the beginnings of depression.

Sure, we assume that they were kept busy, in the ways that many of us parents choose to call “busy”. Video games, added internet time, Netflix…all these things. We imagine he provided, as we do, these distractions. Perhaps as a parent you get more hands on with art projects and exercise. It pays, though, to remember that their little minds often do not grasp the seriousness of what we see as grown-up problems, and rightly so. They’re children, after all, and they process their environment in a very different way to us. But, even though we are keeping them busy, it is the thing we choose that may not be helping the situation at all.

And so, with that in mind, if you took a good, long and hard look at your own children, would you be noticing some of these things?

Some are obvious to spot, and include:

  • Difficulty falling asleep;

  • Frequently waking up;

  • Nightmares;

  • Night terrors; and

  • Sleep walking.

All of these are related to stress and may seem obvious.

Some symptoms and signs, however, are not as clear-cut, and we sometimes pass these off as signs of physical - rather than emotional or mental - distress:

  • Headaches;

  • Dizziness;

  • Stomach problems;

  • Muscle aches (that sore leg, for example, might be the result of your child clenching his leg muscles all day to stamp out anxious thoughts);

  • A racing heart; and

  • Shortness of breath.

Then there are the kinds you have to look closely for:

  • Anxiety, irritation, and poor focus;

  • Avoidance tactics;

  • Tantrums;

  • Setting high expectations and being seriously upset when missing them;

  • A loss of interest in their usual fun activities;

  • Appetite or weight changes; and, in more severe cases

  • A preoccupation or interest in death and dying, and even giving away childhood possessions.


You need to know as much as you can about what’s going on with them,says Dr. Rebecca Siegel, a child and adolescent psychiatrist in New York.And when you see specific changes in behaviours, you need to act. You shouldn’t be reactive - you should be proactive, as much as you can.

Being proactive is one of the foundations on which Iron Grip Martial Arts Cape Town has built our child program. We fully understand that stemming the tide is crucial, and we understand just how much a young mind can be nurtured - along with their bodies, emotions, and outlooks - through active involvement in a sport or activity that ticks all of the boxes: exercise, engagement, measurable progress and reward, and an all-important aspect: building confidence. And why not have fun and learn a valuable skill in the process?

Over the next while we will delve deeper into aspects of childhood stress, providing you with the tools you need to recognise the early signs and to help your little loved ones through the hurdles and complications of the “new normal.”

And, as an excellent starting point, have a look at what we are offering, now, as a way to provide you with valuable options as a parent, and an engaging activity that will captivate their minds and imaginations.

Because there are, indeed, some things worth taking control over.