How is coronavirus and the lockdown making you feel? Anxious, sad, lonely? Children are no less affected by worry and stress than adults. Whether they are five or fifteen children thrive on routine and when this is disrupted, they are vulnerable to mental health issues too.
Sadly, there have been reports that a fifth of primary school children are afraid to leave the house because of fears related to coronavirus. So, as a parent or carer how can you help keep your child’s worries under control and spot the warning signs when they need a bit of extra support? And equally, how can you make sure that worry about your children’s wellbeing doesn’t harm your own mental health?
A great starting point is to be realistic about what you can do to help. Accepting that a degree of anxiety and worry is completely normal in times of chronic uncertainty can help provide reassurance. You don’t need to and can’t be expected to have the answers to all your children’s questions but providing emotional support and a listening ear can go a long way in helping keep their spirits up and keep them talking to you about how they are feeling.
Here are some practical tips to create a healthy conversation at home:
Be open to questions
Try and understand what is causing your child to worry. Each child will react differently to the situation. For young children, missing the routine of school and lack of contact with friends is likely to be a cause of upset, while teenagers will find being around their parents all the time frustrating. Encourage your children to ask questions and try to answer them honestly without minimising their fears. Keep checking in so it becomes a normal thing to talk about and let them know it is expected and okay to feel scared, angry or unsure.
Help them get perspective
As adults, we have years of life experience to help inform and shape how we feel. Children can lack that context. Help your child understand that there will be an end to this, when they will be able to see friends and family again. And try to provide interim solutions like video calls. Reassure your child with age-appropriate facts and help them understand what you are doing as a family to stay safe, but only when they are calm and open to receive the information. Rolling news and social media can be a cause of anxiety, so explain to children what false and sensationalised information is; and if they feel worried tell them to let you know.
Create new routines
Routines are a well-acknowledged part of anxiety management and will help children feel grounded, leading the way for a happier more harmonious lockdown for the whole family. Lots of families have gone onto ‘holiday time’, with teenagers staying up late and emerging from their beds at lunchtime. This in itself is not a huge problem, but it is important to try and maintain a distinction between the week and weekend. Simple tasks at regular times like getting dressed, making the bed and eating together go a long way in creating a calm supportive environment at home.
Find the fun
Parents set the emotional barometer for the household. Having fun together and creating moments of happiness is a great way to offset the more serious parts of the lockdown experience. Young children in particular will not understand what coronavirus is, but they will be able to pick up when their parents are stressed. Spend time together doing positive activities your child enjoys: baking, crafting or watching a film. Creating a supportive and relaxed environment can also provide space for children to raise worries and concerns without it feeling like a ‘big chat’.
Know when it’s time to get help
While a degree of worry and stress is normal it’s important to recognise when it’s become more serious. Children with pre-existing mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression and eating disorders will be particularly vulnerable. If your child is showing behaviour that is abnormal for them like refusing to leave the house or get out of bed, a significant change in eating habits or complaining about physical pain it’s worth seeking professional help. Always contact your GP in the first instance to get them access to the support they need.
If you are finding it difficult to help your children talk about their feelings or feeling anxious about their wellbeing we can help. Online therapy can provide you with the guidance and advice you need to manage how you are feeling. With access to child psychologists, online therapy can help support children in the family too, all from the comfort of your own home.