Children’s lives have been turned upside down during the pandemic, creating increased mental pressure and anxiety. How will they, and their parents, cope as their schools remain shut until September?
Being a parent is challenging at the best of times. But as all mums, dads and carers of children know, getting the best out of your kids and family life is all about routine. What happens when the accepted norm goes out the window? That’s what parents and their children have been coming to grips with over the past weeks of lockdown.
And even with relaxation of lockdown, the new norm is going to look a whole lot different to anything we’ve been used to in the past. According to YoungMinds, the leading UK children and young people’s mental health charity, the pandemic has turned the lives of many parents and carers upside down creating added anxiety and increased pressure, especially for those with children with existing mental health problems.
YoungMinds asked 1,500 parents and carers what advice they would give to others caring for children and young people during the pandemic and what is helping them cope. Here’s their top tips, which is also available in a handy parent-to-parent mental health guide.
Talk to your child
The top advice from parents and carers is to keep talking to your child. This included providing age-appropriate information about what is going on, reassuring them and asking how they are feeling. You don’t need to have all the answers but to try to be calm and be there when your children need you.
Listen to your child
Be patient, not interrupting your child and be non-judgemental. It can be hard to cope with difficult emotions but listening would help them feel heard. Let them feel their own way through this – so if that means no schoolwork that afternoon and a movie so be it.
Routine and structure is important but be flexible
Go with the flow rather than be strict about structure and make sure there is clear variety between what you do together on weekdays and at weekends. Try and find new ‘anchors’. A strict routine is not especially beneficial but picking a few key things to do at the same time each day or in the same order each day helps young people to be reassured that ‘normal’ things can keep on happening.
Minimise news updates
Youngsters and parents need to keep up-to-date with what’s happening but don’t overload yourselves with news. Stick with watching Newsround daily together for specific factual advice delivered in a way that is suitable for children.
Focus on their mental health and ease the pressure
Lots of parents are finding it tough to strike the right balance between home-schooling and wellbeing through the pandemic. Give yourself and your child a break when it gets too much, allowing them to focus on what they need now and prioritise their mental health. Go easy on yourself. Your anxiety will transfer to your child, so take care of yourself and how you are behaving.”
Get them to connect with others and lower your restrictions
Boundaries are important but many parents in the survey also stressed that children will need to stay connected with their friends and do things that they enjoy. Helping them stay connected with the people they trust will allow them to retain a sense of normality.
Spend time together but make sure they get alone time
Trying to be a perfect family puts too much pressure on everyone. Giving children, especially teenagers, space so that they can be alone and do what they want to do is important. Try not to put pressure on them to play happy families.
Exercise and get fresh air when possible
It’s important that children get exercise. Keep home life as normal as possible; get fresh air daily and keep everyone active.
Seek help if you need it
Seeking help came up a lot for parents in the survey. Some said that they felt they were in no position to offer advice and that they were really struggling. Others stressed how important it is to get help for your child if they need it, either by accessing online support, by calling your GP or contacting a helpline.