Spending more time indoors and without a ‘normal’ routine is a challenge for us all but particularly for young people. You may have noticed signs of increasing anxiety in your children – like some of those listed below which are typically seen between the ages of three and 10.
For younger children (aged 3 to 6)
- Regressing to behaviour they’ve outgrown, such as thumb-sucking or bed-wetting
- Showing greater fear at being separated from you
- Throwing tantrums more often
- Having trouble sleeping
For older children (aged 7 to 10)
- Expressing sadness, anger or fear
- Sharing false information that they’re hearing from their peers or seeing online
- Wanting to talk about coronavirus all the time
- Not wanting to talk about the current situation at all
- Having trouble concentrating
Children are very perceptive and they react to what they sense from the adults around them so it’s really important right now to take care of your own physical and mental health.
Looking after yourself
Here are some things you can do to help keep yourself healthy:
- Connect with others – maintain relationships with people you care about through phone and video calls
- Exercise – take some time every day to move. You could go for a walk or run. You’ll also find lots of fitness videos online for everything from yoga to dance. Find something you enjoy and that makes you feel good
- Eat healthy meals – try to keep a well-balanced diet and drink enough water
- Get some sleep – being anxious or worried can have a big impact on your sleep. If you’re struggling to get a good night’s sleep, try to develop a calming bedtime routine – for example, do 10 minutes of yoga or listen to calming music. There are also apps you can download that provide guided meditation to help you get to sleep more quickly
- Turn off the news – it’s important to keep up to date, but the 24-hour news cycle can make you more anxious. Limit your exposure to the news to only a small amount of time, just enough to know what the latest government guidance is
- Do things you enjoy – now that we’re all spending more time at home, we can finally take up that hobby we’ve always meant to learn. Try baking or gardening or learning to knit. These are also great activities we can share with our children
- Set goals – it’s easy to lose track of the days in our current situation, so it can be helpful to set daily and weekly goals to give us a sense of control and purpose. Examples might be setting a goal of walking for half an hour at least 3 times this week or reading a new book
- Connect with the outdoors – depending on where you live, it may not be possible to spend time outside. If you don’t have a garden or terrace, you can still open a window to let some fresh air and sunlight in. Put a comfortable chair by the window so you can look outside and get some air as you read a book
- Talk to someone – during this difficult time, sharing with family and friends how you’re feeling and what you’re doing to cope can be helpful for both you and them. There are also helplines you can call for support – we’ve included a list at the end of this pack
No matter how calmly you manage the current environment, children are likely to be anxious, so it is important to talk to them about what’s happening.
Talk to your children
Children pick up bits of information from their friends, from the news and from listening to adults talking around them – but they can misunderstand what they’re hearing.
- Deal with the news head-on and talk about it openly and calmly, giving them the facts
- Give them age-appropriate information – take a look at:
- Teach them how to know if information they find on the internet is reliable. Explain how some stories on social media may be based on rumours or inaccurate information
- Encourage them to take breaks from listening to or reading the news – overexposure isn’t helpful
- Encourage questions
- This will give them the confidence to reach out if they have anything to ask
- Be reassuring but honest when answering questions – it is ok if you don’t have all the answers
- Be ready to answer the same question over and over – children tend to repeat themselves when they’re feeling uncertain or worried, so you might have to answer the same questions more than once as they seek extra reassurance
- Be a role model
- Recognise and manage your own worries first
- Be open about your own feelings and let them know it’s normal to be concerned – for example, let them know you’re also finding the news a bit worrying and what you’re doing to stay calm
- Explain how our body’s immune system protects us
- It’s constantly working against germs without us knowing. We can’t and don’t need to control this process
- Explain that we’re taking precautions against this particular germ because it’s a new one which our bodies haven’t come across before
- Remind them how important it is that they eat healthy food, sleep and exercise, as this helps to fight germs
- If it helps, reassure them that the effects of this virus on healthy young people are very mild
- Keep doing your bit to help children reduce the spread of germs
- Remind them to maintain good hygiene like bathing daily and wearing fresh clothes
- Encourage them to sing ‘happy birthday’ twice when they’re washing their hands
If your child struggles with higher levels of anxiety
Some children are naturally more anxious, such as those with existing phobias or obsessive-compulsive disorders. The current situation can make those anxieties worse.
- Get them to do activities such as counting, ordering and sorting tasks which can help them calm down
- Encourage them to use relaxation techniques such as controlled breathing
- Look out for obsessive or compulsive behaviours and try to get ahead of them early by challenging unhelpful thoughts and assumptions
- If you’re worried about your child’s anxiety, YoungMinds is a charity dedicated to children’s mental health. They’ve opened a parents’ helpline for confidential, expert advice. You can reach them at 0808 802 5544
Where to get further help
If your child would like to speak with someone confidentially there are helplines and websites specifically for them. But it’s not just our children that need a helping hand in these uncertain times. If you feel overwhelmed, at risk of abuse or you’re experiencing financial need, there are people you can call on for support – take a look at the organisations listed in the attachment below.
We’re extremely grateful for all the support you’ve shown us as we’ve adapted to these new circumstances, and we want to reassure you that we are still here to support you too.