There is a lot of uncertainty around the current COVID-19 outbreak, particularly given that the situation is constantly developing and the information about the virus remains incomplete.
Understandably, this is causing a lot of worry and anxiety for people. Having children and young people at home, often when people are trying to work themselves, adds another layer of stress. It is therefore important to not only consider our physical health during such challenging times, but also to pay attention to our mental health. It is normal to feel worried, stressed and anxious when we are faced with uncertain situations, but the sooner we acknowledge and learn to take care of our mental health, the healthier and better equipped we’ll be to cope with the situation we're having to face.
As long as we and those around us are well, this time can be viewed as an opportunity to change family habits, to spend some quality time with our children and to work and play together as a team. By setting some guidelines and boundaries we can shape the day for ourselves and for our children, leaving space to talk, to listen and to have fun together. In years to come, when we look back at this crisis, it would be good to think we spent the time as well as we could and that we were able to create some happy memories amidst the uncertainty.
Be kind to yourself and to everyone around you; kindness is contagious.
Looking after yourself:
Taking care of our mental health and checking in on others is something that we can all do, and we need to remember that by looking after our own mental health, we’ll be best placed to look after our children. Remember when they tell you on aeroplanes that you need to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others, it’s like that.
Time is precious, especially when looking after children. However, try to plan your days or weeks to include something from each of the ‘five ways to wellbeing’
Try to make sure that you and your family get regular exercise every day. You Tube has lots of exercise videos for kids and adults.
Get children involved in planning their own ‘indoor PE’. If current government advice permits, try to get outside once a day either into your garden if you have one or in a place where there are few people. If you can’t go out, open the windows for some fresh air and take some time to look at the world outside.
Take a break from the news and social media and concentrate on what’s happening in the here and now in your family. Notice and appreciate the small things. Studies have shown that being aware of what is taking place in the present directly enhances your wellbeing. There’s lots of good mindfulness apps to try, but if that’s not for you, just getting into something you enjoy e.g. cooking, drawing etc and really focussing on it can be just as good.
Social connection is one of the most important ways that we can look after our mental wellbeing. Social distancing is going to make that trickier, but we’re lucky enough to have technology to help us out. Think physical distancing, but social connections. Social media is great, but if you can, try to have phone calls or even video calls. Arrange to FaceTime/Skype a friend for coffee, phone relatives more often than usual. Whilst it can be helpful to share worries, try to find other things to talk about too.
Research tells us that giving back to our community helps people to feel valuable and makes us happier. We might not be able to contribute to our community in our usual way, but many people will still be able to find ways to give back. Lots of community groups are setting up schemes that aim to help vulnerable people at this difficult time. If you want to get involved, check out local social media for ideas. Many of us will not be in a position to offer practical support. We can still offer mutual support to friends and family by checking in with them regularly.
Learning a new skill or honing an existing one gives us a sense of purpose and achievement. Whilst we’re busy learning, we’re less likely to experience anxious thoughts and worries. Social-distancing will bring new challenges, but it will give many of us the time to start a new hobby or learn about an area that we’ve always been interested in.
As well as the ‘five ways to wellbeing’ try to also: Avoid overexposure to the news – Some people enjoy keeping informed to help them feel in control, however constant exposure to news can be overwhelming and increase anxiety. Try to get your news from reputable sources and encourage children to do the same - a lot of news being shared through social media may not be accurate. Remember that different people will react differently to events – some people may be worried, frightened, excited or feel nothing at all, be aware that different reactions are normal. Ask for help if you need it – from asking someone to pick up shopping to asking for tips to help your child with school work - don’t struggle through on your own, there are lots of people who will be willing to help you. Reach out to community groups on social media or via the telephone.
Looking after your children:
For the most part, children will need what they’ve always needed; love, attention and opportunities to learn and play. If children are home for long periods because of social distancing or self-isolation, the following tips might be helpful:
Try and keep to a structure and routine that suits you. Keep bedtime and morning routines close to existing ones to promote a sense of normality that children will find reassuring. Encouraging them to get up and dressed during the week will help maintain some difference between weekdays and weekends.
Keep boundaries firm and make it clear that you expect the same standards of behaviour as usual. Boundaries show that adults are still in control and taking care of them, which helps children to feel safe.
Make sure they get some time to burn off energy every day. Younger children will enjoy assault courses, discos etc. Older children and teens might respond better to fitness videos.
Expect children to do some learning every day. In the longer-term schools are likely to provide opportunities for online learning. In the short term, or as extra activities there are a wealth of helpful websites, many of which they will be able to access independently. Continuing with their learning helps promote a sense of normality and purpose as well as keeping them up to date for when they are back at school.
Find opportunities for them to interact with their friends remotely. For tweens and teens, contact with their peers is especially important. Technology provides lots of opportunities for older children to connect, chat and game together. But be wary of giving unsupervised access to platforms that you would not normally allow your child onto; the internet still poses the same risks as in normal times.
Balance screen time with other activities. Challenge children to learn new skills that don’t involve screens e.g. tying shoe laces, juggling, baking. Older children might want to set their own goals. Give children opportunities to have a say in what will be happening. They may have had a lot of their freedoms and choices removed for a while and may feel powerless or angry. Older children and teenagers will be more able to understand the risks in too much screen time, too little sleep, inactivity etc. They are more likely to ‘buy in’ to new rules and routines if they feel that they have a voice. Family meetings where children and adults problem-solve together can be helpful for this. (https://bristolchildparentsupport.co.uk/ready-family-meetings/)
Remember to intersperse activities with breaks, and don’t forget healthy snacks and drinks!
Talking to children about coronavirus:
Although it’s tempting to try and protect children from difficult topics, they are more likely to worry when they’re kept in the dark. Children and teenagers will be aware of what is happening but may not have all the facts they need to understand it.
These tips will help you communicate about Coronavirus with your child: Take time to talk and listen. Be clear that you are happy to answer any questions that they have. Be led by your child as they may not be that interested or want to know everything all at once. Try to answer any questions honestly but keep things in context e.g. “Sadly, some people do die, but the vast majority of people will recover, and children seem to be only mildly affected”.
Reassure them that their own risk is very low but that we all need to ‘do our bit’ to look after people who might be very unwell. Underline how helpful they are being by following the rules about hygiene and social-distancing. Knowing we’re being altruistic helps us to bear the tough times.
Give positive messages about everything you are doing as a family to keep yourselves safe. Talk about all the work people around the world are doing to find treatments and a vaccine.
Keep explanations developmentally appropriate. o Young children up to about age seven will need very simple explanations that relate to their own experiences. Explain that, like other germs, Coronavirus can spread between people and make them ill. But because Coronavirus is a new germ that we don’t know everything about, we need to take more care and so things might be a bit different for a while. o Older children and tweens will want to know more. They may have heard partial explanations and ‘filled in the gaps’ themselves with their own ideas, so check what they already think they know about it. o Teenagers will have a similar capacity to understand what’s going on as adults. They will need calm, factual information and opportunities to talk through their worries and disappointments.
Give them an opportunity to talk about their feelings. Our instinct might be to ‘make it all better’, but it is normal to feel scared, sad and angry in the face of what’s happening. Tell them that what is happening is not normal but that their feelings are.