Whilst this sense of a new normal does seem to be settling in, we are still having to deal with the restrictions that we find ourselves adhering to.
Yes, if we are not a key worker, we are only being asked to stay at home to save lives but this may have a psychological price to pay, particular for certain groups of individuals including children, single parents, older people, those on low income, those with mental illness, and front-line workers. In this article I’ll be focusing on how to look after our children’s mental well-being during COVID-19 lock-down.
The reaction a child will have to a disaster, whatever that may be, will vary according to their age and cognitive ability. For example, children of pre-school age will exhibit behavioural changes such as bed wetting, speech difficulties, loss of appetite, and fear of being alone. School-age children are more likely to talk about how they feel, letting you know that they are scared. Behaviour changes might include aggressiveness, crying, and loss of interest in school work. Adolescents might start to become more rebellious, more insular, have physical symptoms such as headaches and stomach problems. These signs can vary greatly but the main point here is to notice any changes in your child.
Whether you’ve noticed changes or not, it’s important to hold in mind how you would like to safeguard your child against mental struggles during COVID-19. To help with this, here are some ideas:
Four tips to help your child:
- Look after your own emotional well being. Children learn through example, if they see that you are emotionally stable they will have a sense of security. Think about what you need to be as emotionally okay as you can during this time. That might be time to yourself a couple of times a day, time outside or time talking to friends online.
- Routine routine routine. I can’t state this enough. You are all stuck indoors trying to manage this as best you can. Routine gives everyone a sense of stability and certainty in what the day will look like. Break the day down into sections, just like at school. Let your children know what this looks like and be clear about this in an age appropriate way. Young children might need a colour chart. For example, green is calm time, yellow is exercise time, blue is learning time, orange is mummy’s alone time. Older children can help create the routine and ideas around it. Make sure you incorporate learning, fun, exercise, social and calm time.
- Share age appropriate information about the crisis. It can be tempting to lie to your children or avoid answering questions but this rarely helps. With pre-school children you will need to keep it simple and understated for example ‘we aren’t allowed to go out and seen grandma at the moment because we need to keep an illness from spreading. It will pass, this isn’t forever’. With older children you can be a little more explicit. Ensure a balanced view is shared and that fake news is kept at bay.
- Helping with emotions. It’s crucial that you help your child notice what emotions they are feeling and label them. Whilst it can be tempting to gloss over their fear and sadness, it can be invalidating. Helping your child to notice and label an emotion can often be enough to reduce it. A simple ‘My goodness this seems scary for you. What are you scared about?’ Gives your child the opportunity to express, label and get comfort from you.
These tips are there to guide you but please don’t be hard on yourself. We are all feeling our way through this new experience. The very fact that you’ve read this shows that you care!
Alison is a qualified and accredited psychotherapist in private practice.
If you would like more support during this time please contact me for an informal discussion or to make an appointment.