With more months of isolation ahead, many children will be struggling with their mental wellbeing. We’ve collated tips and resources from our partners, and charitable organisations, to help your family through this tough time.
- How to help a child that feels anxious about Coronavirus
- How to help a child that’s feeling low or depressed during lockdown
- Dealing with the death of a loved one due to Coronavirus
- Managing your children’s mental health while separated
- 7 practical tips for practising positive wellbeing for all the family
“This year has been tough for us all.”
How many times have you heard or read that statement over the past 10 months? Rolling lockdowns, economic downturns and rising R numbers can be disorienting and worrisome enough for adults, but what affect does it have on children?
Some of the statistics are, expectedly, bleak. An investigation into mental health by The Guardian, revealed that multiple indicators of children’s health and wellbeing had been negatively affected by lockdown.
A report by the Children’s Commissioner found that almost half (47%) of the 2,000 8- to 17-year-olds they surveyed, admitted they felt stressed almost every day during March of last year.
This is having a knock-on effect on disadvantaged children’s ability to learn. An Ofsted report found that the children hardest hit by the pandemic were regressing in basic skills, such as Maths and English.
Maintaining a child’s mental health in these trying times isn’t an easy task. After all, many adults will be acutely struggling as well.
To give a helping hand, we’ve collated some useful tips and resources from our own experience, and from our partners, that will help you and your children cope, and even flourish during these trying times.
Please visit our help page to find out if you qualify for support from The Naval Children’s Charity.
How to help a child that feels anxious about Coronavirus
As we’ve touched on above, uncertain times naturally lead to feelings of anxiety. Even something as simple as a change in routine can lead to periods of anxiety, factoring in the constant barrage of bad news, it’s no wonder that many children are now feeling stressed. To quote official guidance found on the NHS website:
“The impact that the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak is still having on our lives may cause us to feel anxious, stressed, worried, sad, bored, lonely or frustrated.
“Everyone feels different sometimes. It’s important to remember it is OK to feel this way and that everyone reacts differently – for most of us, these difficult feelings will pass.”
It is important here to stress the difference between a child that experiences periods of anxiety, and those that feel worried or stressed all the time. If your child struggles to control their anxiety for an extended period of time, and it is affecting multiple parts of their life (social, education, physical health, sleep), contact a mental health professional, or your GP. To read more about this, visit this resources page on the Young Minds website.
What are the triggers that are likely to make young people feel anxious?
- lots of change in a short space of time
- responsibilities beyond their age and development
- traumatic or distressing experiences (e.g., being bullied, or domestic abuse)
- familial stress (e.g., family debt)
- exposure to another anxious person, such as a parent
Many of these causes can be exacerbated by lockdown. Many children will be knocked off kilter by no longer being at school, while many of the familial triggers will have be heightened by proximity to their parents and siblings.
What are the signs that my child may be anxious?
While there are a number of physical symptoms associated with acute anxiety disorders (you can find these listed here), there are a number of thoughts and feeling or coping behaviours that children will exhibit if they are worried:
- preoccupation with scary or negative thoughts
- nervous, on edge or panicky
- feeling overwhelmed
- worrying about being unable to cope with school or friendships, or being unable to concentrate
- being withdrawn or isolating themselves
- eating more or less than usual
How can I help my child deal with anxiety?
- Keep up lines of communication: Letting your child know that feeling anxious is natural will help them deal with the emotions. Perhaps letting them know that you are also worried, and that these are exceptional times, will make them feel less guilty about how they’re feeling.
- Try to reassure them that this will pass: While there may not be an immediate light at the end of the tunnel, your child will find comfort in knowing they won’t feel like this forever, and that the world will return to normal soon.
- Spend time doing positive activities together: This could be as simple as watching a film, going for a walk, or learning a new skill. It also creates opportunity for an informal discussion about their emotions, without the need for a ‘big chat’.
- Keep as many regular routines as possible: A sense of familiarity will help with the uncertainty. Even if the kids don’t need to be up as early for school, encouraging them to wake up at the same time will help them feel grounded.
Bonus tip: Make a self-soothe box
This great exercise, posted on the Young Minds website, will help young people feel grounded during periods of anxiety. From things you can play with in your hands, to cards reminding you of happier times, a self-soothe box features stimuli that alleviate stress. Check out this video from Young Minds activists on what they keep in their box:
How to help a child that’s feeling low or depressed during lockdown
Extended periods of anxiety can have a negative effect on our general mood. As the nights began drawing in, and restrictions tightened once again, many of us will have felt a drop in our energy levels and motivation.
This again, is largely unavoidable. Fluctuations in our mood are entirely natural and are a reasonable reaction to the constantly changing landscape of the pandemic. As above, if a child is reporting feelings of low mood for an extended period of time, and it is affecting their physical and mental wellbeing, please get in touch with a mental health professional or your GP.
What are the signs of depression?
Depression may be easily overlooked, especially during the lockdown, where children are often more irritable or sad. It may be difficult to differentiate the signs of a low mood, as opposed to clinical depression. As a rule of thumb, if the following symptoms persist for longer than two weeks, seek professional help:
- Unusual levels of sadness or irritability
- Loss of interest in activities
- Reduced feelings of anticipation
- Changes in weight
- Shifts in sleep patterns
- Harsh self-assessment
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Suicidal ideation
How can I help my child improve their mood?
Here are some simple steps you can take to elevate your child’s mood:
- Stay active: Physical and mental wellbeing are intrinsically linked. This study found that children aged between 6 and 17-years-old that recorded no daily exercise, were twice as likely to have mental health problems than those that exercised for an hour a day. Even getting out and walking is known to have real benefits for a child’s wellbeing.
- Challenge negative thoughts: Becoming stuck in negative thinking patterns can be a drain on a child’s mood and energy. If they are struggling with the on-going nature of the lockdown, talk to them about the future, and help them think through the facts. This won’t go on forever, even if it might seem that way to a child.
- Make new plans and goals: Having something to look forward to or work towards can be of real benefit. If they miss socialising, organise a zoom date with a group of their friends’ and their parents. For children that participate in extra-curricular activities that have been cancelled, challenge them to practise it themselves, or to hone a new skill that will help them in the future.
- Limit their time on social media: One of the words of 2020, ‘doomscrolling’, the act of endlessly traipsing through bad news, is equally addictive and demoralising. Suggest they follow accounts such as @the_happy_broadcast on Instagram for some more positivity, or to implement a time cap on their various apps.
For more tips on how to improve your child’s mood, click here.
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Dealing with the death of a loved one due to Coronavirus
Helping a child through the death of a family member, or loved one, is a sensitive and difficult issue at the best of times. With the added stress of the pandemic and lockdown, and potentially having to explain that the death was caused by Coronavirus, there are a number of tips for managing this sensitive period.
How should I talk to my child about a death of a loved one?
How you approach the conversation will change depending on the child’s developmental stage, and the specific cause of death. However, a child’s basic needs remain the same. Here’s the general guidance of children’s bereavement charity Winston’s Wish:
- Use simple direct language
- Use the words ‘died’, ‘dead’, and ‘death’ – euphemisms or coded language such as ‘we’ve lost Dad’ are confusing for younger children
- Keep the children informed about has happened and what will happen
- Check that they understand
- Answer their questions as openly as you can
- Reassure them they are not to blame
- Allow and encourage them to share their feelings and thoughts
- Listen to their feelings, worries and memories
What are some of the specific issues related to Coronavirus that may affect a child’s grief?
Here are some of the complicating factors that may cause further issues for a child’s grief. For a full list, visit the Winston’s Wish website:
- Unpredictability: children may struggle to accept that someone who was young and well has died from the virus.
- Suddenness: People may die rapidly. This will give the child little time to adjust.
- Distance: Children won’t be allowed to spend time with a dying relative.
- Constantly reminded: The stories of the virus will be everywhere, and act as a constant reminder for the child’s bereavement.
- Absence of rituals: With restrictions on funerals, there will be less chance for children to say a formal goodbye.
Bereaved children are more likely to exhibit symptoms of anxiety and depression. Here are some specific tips on how you can help children through those feelings.
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Resource: Is someone you love very ill?
Not being able to visit a loved one while they’re seriously ill can be very hard on children. This exercise from The Childhood Bereavement Network will help children feel close to a family member, even if it’s not possible to visit.
Resource: Lesson plans
For teachers and home schoolers, conducting a lesson on how to manage death, will be a useful exercise in preparing children for losing someone to the virus. These lessons plans from Dying Matters, are a great start for opening young people up to discussing grief and bereavement.
Managing your children’s mental health while separated
At the Naval Children’s Charity, we’ve been helping families manage while a parent is away for generations. Deployment can be a challenging time for all the family, but especially for young children, who may feel abandoned, or to blame for a parent’s absence. These feelings of anxiety and isolation can be exacerbated by the constantly changing news around the pandemic, as our instinct is to surround ourselves with loved ones during a crisis.
These tips may also be useful for parents that have separated or divorced. While there are provisions in the current government guidelines for parents to see a child if they live separately (at time of writing, children under 18 can move between both homes), the reality is that contact will likely decrease.
Tips for managing your child’s mental health from a distance
- Use technology to keep in touch: Taking some time to talk, either through video calls or over the phone will help children feel connected to you. Try and suggest activities that you can do together remotely, such as playing an online board game, or organising a quiz.
- Try to keep as much of a routine as you can: Earmarking regular points during the week that you’ll make contact will help your children form a new routine and give you both something to look forward to.
- Reassure your child that you’ll see them soon: Extended absences may exacerbate issues of abandonment that many children feel following the break-up of a family, or a parent going away on deployment. Resources such as our two short stories, Henry the Time Penguin, and Zoe the Time Rabbit, will help children adjust to the absence of a parent, while also reminding them that they’ll return soon.
8 practical tips for practising positive wellbeing for all the family
While this article has mainly concerned itself with looking after children, the most important step you can take is to look after yourself.
A study by the University of Nottingham and King’s College London found that over half of respondents (57%) reported symptoms of anxiety, while some 64% of individuals experienced common signs of depression. The stress of balancing our working and professional lives, which have become one and the same in many cases, has been disorienting.
Remind yourself, as well as your children, this too shall pass. It’s ok to feel sad or anxious, we’re in the middle of the most tumultuous events the majority of us will experience in our lifetimes.
To make sure that you stay as positive as possible, here are seven practical tips we can all put into practice, to help maintain our wellbeing:
- Focus on the present: During times of stress, we often fixate on what the future may bring. Being present in the moment can help reassure you. You’re still here, the world hasn’t ended. Practising breathing exercises, meditating, or just sitting outside around nature (when the weather’s nicer) can help bring you back to the moment
- Stay connected: While Zoom fatigue is very much a real thing, staying in touch with friends and family will keep your spirits high.
- Talk!: As the adage goes, ‘a problem shared, is a problem halved’. Don’t keep negative emotions bottled up. Open communication about your feelings will set a good example for the kids, and make you feel better.
- Look after your body: With the limited sunshine, and restrictions on our movement, getting your required exercise in is tricky. These simple 10-minute workout videos from the NHS can be completed in your living room, with no equipment, while Joe Wicks’ PE lessons have proven a hit with the whole family.
- Stick to the facts, and switch off: Constantly looking at a screen, and following every live update is exhausting. Allot some time to keep up to date on new developments, from reputable sources, and then spend time focussing on other pursuits.
- Pursue your passions: Perhaps you’ve wanted to write a blog, or are excited to spend more time gardening or baking. Taking time to do the things we enjoy, that fulfil us, will improve our mood. For the people that are restricted from their passions, now’s the time to take up a new skill.
- Get some sleep: Not only is a good night’s sleep integral for boosting your immune system, it is intrinsically linked to our mental wellbeing. For those that are struggling with sleep during lockdown, either due to a disruption in routine or a lack of physical exertion, the NHS has tips for helping you get your 40 winks.
- Take time to relax: Most importantly, find time to feel calm. Many of these tips will help, as a healthy body, reaching a ‘flow’ state or talking through problems, are all know to bring us closer to peace. Here are some specific tips to help you centre yourself.
Please visit our help page to find out if you qualify for support from The Naval Children’s Charity.