Infectious disease outbreaks, like the current Coronavirus (COVID-19), can be scary and worrying for many people.
News about the pandemic is everywhere and it can be difficult to process the messages we are receiving and protect our children from upsetting information.
Many of us are worried for our health and that of those closest to us. Restrictions to our daily lives to help reduce the spread of the infection are also likely to impact on our mental wellbeing. With the closure of schools, children and young people have experienced a massive change to the way they live their lives in a very short space of time and it is important that we are alert to their needs and the impact of these changes on them.
Kath Davies, director of children and young people’s services at Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust said “Parenting is one of the hardest tasks we do. The Recovery College Online have a range of resources for children, young people, parents and carers that can help you to support the mental wellbeing of your family during this period. You may also find our top tips for strengthening your child’s emotional resilience helpful during this challenging time.”
Here are some things you can do to support your children during the pandemic:
1. Maintain a daily routine
Routines are always important for children’s mental wellbeing. Right now, their lives have changed dramatically in a very short space of time. Trying to make sure that a new routine is implemented as soon as possible is important. That doesn’t mean you have to become a superhero and do it all. Find two or three things that give a sense of stability each day, whether that’s a predictable meal time, planned time to rest and chat to people, or making sure you are up and dressed by a certain time.
2. Keep expectations reasonable (theirs and yours)
Changing circumstances can leave us all feeling overwhelmed, stressed and anxious. Your children are the same. No matter how well prepared you are, or how fantastic your plans are, things will not go as well as you expect them to. Try to lower your standards. These are unprecedented times and it is important to be kind, compassionate and understanding to ourselves and each other.
3. Spend one-on-one time with them
This one has suddenly become a lot easier! Spending one-on-one time with your children lets them know how important they are to you and that you are interested in them. Cook together, play games, read books or watch a film together. Just being together, listening and responding appropriately builds connections that boost your child’s self-esteem.
4. Encourage them to try new things
Use this time to teach your children to do age appropriate tasks around the house. It’s something new and develops skills that they can take pride in, helping to build their self-esteem. It helps you too – double whammy!
5. Acknowledge their emotions
It can be tempting to brush aside our children’s fears and tell them there’s nothing to worry about, but the world is showing them something different right now. Let them talk to you about their concerns and worries. Let them know that other people feel the same way. Use this opportunity to remind them that feelings are temporary and talk to them about what they think can help them to feel a bit better.
6. Help them to see the bright side in situations
When we’re feeling down it can be difficult to see the bright side in situations. That’s where you can help. Whether it’s getting more screen time, having more time with the family or not having to go to school, remind them that every cloud has a silver lining and that this current situation will pass. Being able to find the positives helps us to move on from our feelings.
7. Support them to make and maintain friendships
Not going to school is a huge change for children and young people and not seeing their friends is going to be very difficult for them. Support your child to stay in contact with their friends using age appropriate digital technologies. Have group chats, use social media or have walkie-talkies your kids can use with your neighbours in the garden. Explore, experiment and be safe.
8. Encourage them to help others
Doing something kind or for the benefit of someone else is good for you too. Evidence shows that it can help to reduce stress and improve your emotional wellbeing. Sending letters to local residents in care homes, joining in with ‘Clap for our carers’ or displaying a rainbow in your window could bring a little joy to others (and could give them a little lift too).
9. Have a healthy lifestyle
Taking care of your child’s physical health has a positive impact on your mental wellbeing. Simple steps like limiting the amount of sugar they eat, giving them some fruit and vegetables each day and supporting them to get some exercise (even if it’s playing on the Wii or trampoline) can make a huge difference.
10. Set an example – show them that you are resilient.
Probably the toughest on the list. We don’t have to hide our feelings from our children but if we can, it’s best to show them how to move on from them. Seeing you going about your daily life will reassure them that they will be ok.