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Parenting expert: Pandemic has affected mental health

Gwendolyn Creary, of ParentGuide, spoke in a virtual meeting of the Hamilton Rotary Club (Image taken from Zoom recording)

A child mental health specialist said that being in nature was especially important for families working or teaching from home because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Gwendolyn Creary highlighted that a shift to online classes and meetings could leave people feeling stressed.

The owner and director of ParentGuide, a practice that helps to build relationships between children and their caregivers, talked to Hamilton Rotary Club members last week about neuroception – a process used by the brain to recognise danger or safety.

Ms Creary said: “I do believe that being in nature does have an impact on our neuroception … if there is safety in being outside in the woods then our bodies feel that safety and we have that sense of enjoyment, we have that sense of oneness.”

She added: “I really do think that being in nature is important for mental health, especially now while our children and our parents have to be doing Zoom meetings and remote learning and the whole stress of that.

“The teachers are under stress, the parents are under stress and of course the children – they pick up through neuroception that their parents are under stress so therefore they become anxious and it affects their mental health.”

She was speaking after the public were encouraged by Bermuda Hospitals Board leaders to connect with nature as part of Mental Health Awareness Week.

The theme of the week, which runs until October 11, is “Nature – It’s Part of Your Everyday Life”.

Ms Creary explained that infant and early childhood mental health consultants helped parents and other caregivers to recognise that nurturing and protecting babies and young children led to “secure” relationships.

She added: “With these relationships, infants, toddlers and young children build strong – and unfortunately sometimes weak – foundations for their emotional, cognitive and social development.

“When parents and other caregivers are responsive and protective and stable, infants toddlers and young children become confident, resilient and they’re better able to manage their emotions and they have the capacity to connect with their caregivers in healthy ways.

“We now know through research that there is a link between strong, early relationships and one’s lifelong health.”

Ms Creary, a past president of the Rotary Club, said: “Everyone is born with the capacity to develop trusting and safe relationships, that’s just the way we come into the world.

“A child’s mental health begins in infancy so how that child experiences the world from infancy sets the trajectory for how their mental health will be as they grow.

“Babies’ brains grow rapidly and each positive experience helps to form hundreds of new brain connections that become their platform for learning.”

She added it was up to adults to learn the “language” of the babies in their care.

Ms Creary said: “Babies remember their earliest relationship … these memories, these experiences become the prototype for their future relationships.

“It’s through their early relationships and memories of interaction that they learn to trust themselves, they learn to trust others and they learn to trust the world that they are in.”

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Published October 13, 2021 at 7:41 am (Updated October 13, 2021 at 7:41 am)

Parenting expert: Pandemic has affected mental health

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