With Covid-19 ongoing, these are trying times for even the most put-together adult. For children, it’s understandably a time of mass confusion and uncertainty. With schools closed in various areas around the world, the daily lives and routines of kids have been thrown into turmoil. What’s more, depending on their age, children might not fully understand why this is all happening in the first place.
If you are homeschooling or caring for a child who’s struggling during these times, you are likely wondering how you can look out for them and make their lives simpler.
Here are some top tips on how to protect your child’s mental health during the pandemic.
Create and maintain a routine
Your child’s reactions to yet another round of restrictions will depend on a number of factors. For younger children, it might be a dream come true spending time at home with their parents. For older kids, it may be difficult to not see their friends. Some children who aren’t particularly close with their parents will be devastated at the prospect of not having the outlet of school. But no matter what their age or circumstance, a change of routine will have a huge impact.
Try to recreate the stability of school at home with a schedule. If they are attending remote lessons with their classes, this will be easier as a timetable will already be in place. Make sure to leave time for fun activities and downtime. Encourage them to read a book in the afternoon, or enjoy the outdoors whenever the weather is playing ball. Having a structure in place helps children to learn healthy coping skills when something stressful or inconsistent is taking place.
There may be some things about what’s happening that you’d prefer to shield your children from. Naturally, your child might have some questions about what’s going on in the world. Decide how much you want to tell them, but encourage them to ask questions at the same time. Your child’s curiosity is natural, and it’s important that they feel they can approach and talk to you.
Encourage them to open up about how they’re feeling and be mindful of your language as you respond. Phrases like “It’s okay to be sad”, “I’m here for you”, “I’m listening”, “Tell me about it” and “I understand why you feel that way” are encouraging and supportive. However, phrases like ‘Don’t be silly’ and “It’s fine” can be dismissive. And it doesn’t all stop with words—hugs (if you’re not social distancing) are incredibly comforting to a child.
Share your own feelings
On that note, it’s important to communicate how you’re feeling too. Not only will it help to make children feel less alone, but it helps to develop empathy and self-awareness. Encourage the latter by giving your child a journal or diary to jot down their feelings whenever they’re feeling down. Make it clear that it’s normal for them to feel sad, angry, anxious and scared.
Also, encourage your child to focus on the moment and to stop thinking about things in the future that are out of their control. A great way to do this is by teaching them the 5-4-3-2-1 technique. Encourage them to acknowledge five things they see, four things they can touch, three things they can hear, two things they can smell and one thing they can taste. This will help them to come back to the now. Embracing the present is also great practice for them to take into later life. Speaking of which…
Help them to develop life skills
Spending all of this time with your child creates a great opportunity to develop their life skills. If you have a toddler, it’s the ideal time to focus on everything from potty training to teaching them how to get dressed. On the other hand, older kids might enjoy helping you out in the kitchen (this is often a win-win). In fact, having your children at home a lot gives them a great chance to see how much work goes into running a house. Encourage them to help out—they may even offer.
Have fun too. The truth is that you might not get this time back. Spend time on a fun activity together that they’ll likely remember when they look back on these difficult times. Whether that’s reading your favourite novel together or taking on a jumbo jigsaw puzzle in the evenings, your options are endless.
Be realistic with screen time
In a previous life, you might have been strict about screen time. But in a pandemic, you’re probably feeling a bit conflicted. Yes, screen time is addictive and can stifle creative thinking, but it’s a lifeline for staying in touch with people. Encourage your child to use video calls to communicate with their friends and family. Maintaining social interactions with people outside of their household is integral to their social and mental development.
Many smartphone apps can be saviours during this time too. Whether it’s exercise apps that track their steps on their daily walks or recipe apps for your budding cook-to-be, there are many built for educational purposes. But of course, stay mindful of how much time they’re spending online and limit it to some degree. Just don’t give them (or yourself) a hard time if they don’t always stick to it. These are trying times, after all.
We hope these tips help when trying to look out for your child’s mental health. If you feel like your child is really struggling, the charity Mind has some useful contacts offering support and information.