Supporting your child’s mental health during Coronavirus Pandemic

Supporting your child’s mental health during Coronavirus Pandemic

The current situation is so unique, ever changing and raising so many different emotional responses I wanted to provide you will some thoughts on how you might be able to support your children’s emotional wellbeing duing this time of uncertainty.

How might my child react?

Just as, as adults, we have experienced a huge aray of emotions over the last few weeks it is entirely normal that your child might feel these things too. Sad, Confused, Stressed, Scared, Angry and the list goes on. The major difference between adults and children however is how these emotions might be shown. Whilst an older teen might be able to let you know how they are feeling, or that they don’t know how they are feeling as they are too confused, a younger child might let you know through changes in their behaviour such as:

  • Being tearful
  • Having fluctuating levels of energy
  • Have struggles communicating
  • Report having tummy aches or headaches
  • Appear to get swept up in their thoughts
  • Become more clingy
  • Become more withdrawn
  • Start betwetting

How do I respond?

When your child does bring you their worries, or you’ve noticed changes in their behaviours that make you worried and you want to talk to them about it make sure that you give enough time and space for them to feel fully heard:

  • Connect with them and their feelings e.g. ” I can hear that you’re really worried about this at the moment” or “I’ve noticed that you’ve been spending more time in your room recently and I wanted to check in with how you are doing with all the uncertainty that’s around at the moment”
  •  Validate their expeirences e.g. “It’s really understandable that you feel that way at the moment” perhaps, if it feels appropriate, you can share some of your own experiences – just make sure you don’t hijack their conversation though!
  • Give reasurrance without dismissing their emotional experience e.g. “I think a lot of people might feel that way at the moment” and provide facts about what is happening. Whilst it might be tempting to try and minimise the worry (e.g. ‘oh, it wont happen to us’) this is likely to not provide reasurrance in the long term. Instead talk to them in an age appropriate way about the virus and why we have to stay at home (for older children you can use the Children’s Commission publication or the NHS website to use as a prompt).
  • Let them know that you are always there to talk about how they are feeling. If it starts to feel like the conversations are becoming non-stop as their anxiety is so high then consider implimenting a ‘talking time’.

What else can I do to help?

Find a routine that works for you

One of the most important things to work out is a routine or structure to your day. If possible, try to make sure that you are not constantly having to share your time between work and being with your children. Whether youre able to share time with a partner or whether you use the ipad and screentime to create space for you to work having time that is dedicated to just being with your children is the most important thing. Within this daily structure try and include an element of learning (which includes learning through play!), free time, screen time and exercise. Having snacks and meal at reagular times throughout the day will help to provide grounding points of consistency and help to make sure the day doesn’t pass by in a blur.

There has been a lot of anxiety about what is expected of parents in relation to their childs learning at this time. Perhaps you have a child who is very excited to learn and understand more about the world, perhaps school work is a source of anxiety for your child so having some time away from it is the most beneficial thing to do right now.

Either way, I do feel that there is a message coming through from most teachers saying that they are not expecting you to add the role of ‘teacher’ into your day! If you are looking for resources, including knowing what museums are doing virtual tours, social media accounts that have play based learning or apps for particular subjects, you can find a summary of all that is available here.

If your child is struggling to entertain themselves and find activities to do around the house, this 60 day Wellbeing Challenge is free and has some really lovely ideas on it. Either use it as a challenge board or why not create an ‘I’m bored’ jar – simply cut up all the activity squares, fold them and put them in a container and your children can pick one at random whenever they are looking for something to do. You could even create your own activities when you’re feeling inspired!

Have time for meditation/relaxation/a check-in

It is important at this time of change to be checking in regularly about how everyone is doing. Whilst there is an element of life needing to carry on, this is being done in such a different way it is likely to bring an array of emotions. So do acknowledge how strange it is when you’ve visited friends but had to chat through a window, or how sad it is that you could go to the park but not play on the swings, or how frustrating it might feel to be ‘trapped’ indoors.

Now is a great time to be using a set of emotions cards and using them to learn about emotions, how we they can make us feel and act, and how we can manage when these feelings arise. If you have a set of cards you can play games with them (like emotions snap) or use as an emotions wheel so you create a pointer to be able to share the main feeling of the moment. There are a huge number of options out there for card sets but I particularly like the sets created by @wholeheartedschoolcounseling that are available here.

Of course, this section wouldn’t be complete without me recommending introducing some meditation and mindfulness practice. Whether you introduce mindful activities with your children (see my blogs on summer activities or follow me on facebook or instagram for inspiration) or bring in a formal meditation practice using your own guided meditations, finding some online (Cosmic Kids Zen Den and Louise Shanager’s guided meditations are lovely) or using apps (I like Calm and Smiling Mind) creating a little space to breath, relax and just be is an essential part of looking after ourselves.

Focus on what they can control

Worry thoughts often run away with us when they are about things that we can’t control. We imagine different scenarios, different outcomes and often end up at rather catastrophic endings. One way to manage these thoughts is to notice that they are about things that we have no control over and then let them go in order to make space to focus on the things that are in our control.

This could be a lovely activity to do if your child is struggling with the uncertainty of the current time. Set up the activity as a way of discovering more together about the worry thoughts.

🍀 write down all the thoughts that are floating around, no matter how big or small they are
🍀 cut all the thoughts out so you have a stack
🍀 on a piece of paper draw a circle in the middle – this is for things you can control
🍀 go through each thought and place them on the appropriate place on the page either in the middle circle or round the outside
🍀 support your child to focus on the things you put in the middle – problem solve, plan, get resources – whatever is needed to help them to be focused on these things that they can control.

 

If you would like any further help, advice or support during this time please do not hesitate to contact me at [email protected].

 

Chartered Clinical Psychologist at | [email protected] | Website

Louise is a Chartered Clinical Psychologist specialising in Child and Adolescent Mental Health and Mindfulness. She set up Calm Strong Minds in 2017 to help families to access information and ideas on using mindfulness to develop resilience, confidence, and inner strength. Louise also works in a specialist London NHS hospital with children, young people, and their families.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.