The past few months have been hard on everyone, especially the children and young people in our lives. As we slowly adapt to a new normal, they will be facing new challenges that can affect their mental wellbeing as they settle back at school. However, it’s important to remember that there are lots of things we can do to support them.
The Better Health – Every Mind Matters website is there to support children, young people and their parents’ mental wellbeing. The new advice available on Every Mind Matters is designed to help parents and carers spot the signs that their child may be struggling with their mental health and provides tips to help support them. It has been developed in partnership with leading children and young people’s mental health charities such as Young Minds, The Mix and Place2Be.
Dr Max Pemberton offers his top tips for supporting children and young people’s mental wellbeing as they go back out into the world.
Listen to your child
All children and young people respond to stress in different ways, and react differently – some may be more upset, some may be angry, and some may have physical symptoms like trouble sleeping. Children often take their emotional cues from the adults in their lives, so how you respond is important. Provide time and space to listen to your children’s concerns; really take the time to listen to what they are feeling and experiencing, talk to them about their school life, and explain why the new measures are in place, for example. Speak kindly to them and answer any questions they have honestly. Give them extra love and attention if they need it.
Children and young people want to feel safe. Talk to them about what is happening and the latest COVID updates, especially the new measures at school and what will keep them safe, such as washing their hands regularly. Check in with your children regularly too and talk openly – always give them honest answers to questions they have. Use reliable sources of information, like the coronavirus advice on GOV.UK and NHS coronavirus advice. Make sure to explain things in words they understand. If you cannot answer all their questions or stop them from worrying, focus on listening to their feelings, as this will help them feel supported. Reassure them that talking about difficult feelings with the people they trust is a brave thing to do.
Limit conversation about coronavirus
Children and young people can become more worried by too much news on the coronavirus outbreak in the media and online, so make sure you limit the amount of conversation about coronavirus that you and your family have. You should talk to them about what’s going on and ask them what they have heard, and talk through their concerns. Let them know that everybody’s in the same position and all children will be facing the same challenges when going back to school.
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Keep in regular contact
It doesn’t matter if your child/ren live with you, try and keep them as close to you as possible by keeping regular contact by phone or video calls. If you can now meet up (with other family members), make sure that you follow the current government guidelines on social distancing when you do meet. Help them understand any arrangements that have been or are being made for them. Use simple terms they understand so it’s clear why these things are happening.
Create a new routine
Everyone’s situation at the moment is different, and it’s likely your normal routine has been disrupted. For most children and young people, certain routines like going to school may have changed. However, having a routine gives children and young people an increased feeling of safety in the context of uncertainty, so it’s great to think about a routine that is interesting and fun for your children. Make a plan for every day or during the week that includes time for learning, playing and relaxing – plan an activity together such as cooking, which can also help your children share their feelings more easily.
Children and young people should be active for 60 minutes a day, so it’s important to try to build activity into kids’ daily routine. Physical activity can have an extremely positive effect on your child’s mental wellbeing. Even if this means doing a short burst of exercise at home, it can boost your child’s mood. As a parent, you can plan more games outside, but always follow the government advice on social distancing when you are outside your home.
Ensuring we eat a healthy, balanced diet can help to improve our sense of wellbeing. Eat at the times you usually would, as this can help you maintain your routine. Avoid too many treats, even though it can be tempting to use to cheer up your children. Too many treats are not good for their health, especially if they’re not as active as they normally are.
Have a good sleep
Managing your sleep well can benefit your mental wellbeing hugely, and children and young people need good quality sleep. Not getting enough can affect concentration and reduce energy levels, so make sure your children try and keep a regular sleep pattern.
Don’t be afraid to seek support
Always remember to take care of your own mental wellbeing, and don’t forget, we all need help sometimes. You will give the best support to those you love if you can deal with things calmly and confidently. There are always things you can do to get support, which is so important during coronavirus.
Dr Max Pemberton is supporting Public Health England’s Better Health – Every Mind Matters, which shows parents and carers the steps they can take to look after their children’s mental wellbeing. For more information visit Every Mind Matters.
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