It is almost impossible to avoid the news about the coronavirus pandemic. Your child is likely to overhear grown up conversations, watch the news on the TV or online, listen to rumours from their friends, and they will inevitably notice significant changes to their daily activities. As a parent, you may notice a difference in your child’s behaviour as they navigate this unsettlingly time. They may have become more clingy, teary, angry, or distant. You may be wondering how you can best support them. Below we list our top ten tips for supporting your child during the coronavirus pandemic.
Ten top tips for supporting your child through the coronavirus pandemic:
1. Answer questions honestly: During this time your child may have a lot of questions about coronavirus, and as an adult you may not always have the answer. It is OK not to know and it is OK to admit that. Not knowing helps your child to recognise that you don't need to have all the answers to feel OK about something, which in turn helps to build their resilience.
You can tell your child that you will let them know if you do find out the answer. What is most important, is to open the channels of communication with your child and be available to answer questions truthfully when they arise.
2. Gauge understanding: Children are likely to have heard about the coronavirus from a variety of sources; the news, the internet, from friends, and perhaps have overheard grown-up conversations too. Sometimes these rumours can make young minds run wild with imagination, taking their fears to places they don’t need to go. It is important to regularly check in with your child to see what they understand about the coronavirus and if anything is concerning them.
You do not need to offer up any additional information about the virus, but instead respond to the questions and concerns that they offer to you.
3. Discuss the news: Try not to shield your child from the news, as it is almost inevitable that they will see or hear news stories in some form or another. If they feel bad about having seen or read something which is not age-appropriate, then they are less likely to want to tell you and talk about it. Instead try to find out what they already know about the virus and where they are sourcing their information from.
Find out if they are hearing or reading accurate news stories and direct them to reputable websites and news programmes. You could even watch the news together so that you can help put the stories into context and talk through any concerns.
4. Provide reassurance: Your child is likely to feel overwhelmed and worried about coronavirus. They may be concerned about getting the virus themselves, concerned about what will happen to them if you become ill, and worried about older relatives. You can reassure your child that it is normal to feel like this, offering them reassurance and context. You can tell them that it unlikely to affect young people, that if you get sick then they will still be looked after, and make regular contact with older relatives (via online connections or socially distanced visits) so the child can feel assured that they are safe and well. You can also reassure your child that there are doctors and scientists who are working very hard to protect us all.
5. Acknowledge losses: Losses can come in many forms and this doesn’t necessarily have to be in the form of a death of a loved one. Many children will have suffered many little losses in recent months and because each mini loss seems relatively insignificant compared to the bigger losses faced by society, they may feel that those losses will not be taken seriously. Losses that children might have faced include the loss of being able to see their friends, relatives, teachers or teaching support workers. They may have school-associated losses such as missing exams, missing a prom, graduation from a class, or their leavers day at the end of year 6.
There may also be losses around their everyday activities, such as losing a paper round, not being able to go to the park, missing a birthday party, or missing their regular trip to a favourite café or shop. It is important to acknowledge that these losses feel hugely significant to your child, especially in culmination where there is more than one loss at once. Your child may need support navigating these big feelings. Perhaps they can increase social media contact with those that they miss, such as FaceTiming friends or relatives on a regular basis.
You could also try establishing new routines to replace activities that they miss, such as a “popcorn and film night” instead of going to the cinema or camping in the garden to replace a holiday.
6. Empower your child: During the coronavirus pandemic it can feel like everything is out of control. You can help your child feel empowered and in control by enabling them to help themselves and to help others. You can teach them about immunity, encouraging healthy eating and activity to support this.
Encourage them to handwash regularly and tell them that this keeps not only them safe, but others safe as well. They could help with selecting a face mask design for themselves or for you. And if they have concerns about the wider community, you can help them by suggesting fundraising ideas, delivering care packages to neighbours, or even writing to an older person in a local care home.
7. Help manage “bad thoughts”: Worries for a child can manifest as “bad thoughts” which, for them, can feel difficult to deal with. You can teach your child little techniques to help manage these thoughts every time they pop up. You can reassure your child that everyone has bad thoughts or worries sometimes and that they shouldn't be afraid of them. Instead, they can learn to confront these feelings in different ways. They can tell you about them, because talking about them helps them to feel better.
But if a bad thought keeps coming up, they could try to get it out of their head and onto a piece of paper by writing about the thought or drawing/painting the thought. You can then ask the child what they want to do with that piece of paper – Keep it for them in a safe place? Display the piece? Destroy it?
They could play space invaders with their bad thought and when it arises, by blasting it away. Another idea is to help the child to write a song which they then sing at their bad thoughts, to make them disappear.
8. Establish a routine: Everyday routines can create a sense of safety and comfort. Coronavirus is likely to have disrupted many of your child’s usual routines, especially around schooling and visiting friends and relatives. It is really important to establish a new routine which helps your child feel safe.
Try to establish a sense of normality around mealtimes and bedtimes and establish routines around going for a walk or doing a set daily and weekly activities.
9. Offer comfort: You may have noticed your child has become more needy or clingy in recent months. Sometimes children don’t know how to express what is on their mind and just need that closeness for support. If possible, try to carve out some one- to-one time with your child, where you go for a walk, watch a film, read a story, or do some artwork together.
Establishing a set time, even if just for one hour a week, where they get your undivided attention can help your child feel secure, build their confidence, offer them a routine, and give them something to look forward to.
10. Look after yourself: Children will look to you as a model for how to react to situations. It is important that you maintain open communication, provided in a reassuring and calm manner. This can feel difficult if you are trying to process bad news stories and trying to manage your own anxieties.
Try to practice self-care, by eating well and sleeping well and making small moments of time for yourself. If you are struggling with you own mental health, then reach out for support for yourself too. The more you are able to manage your own feelings, the better you will be at supporting your child’s.
By Doctor Bethany Morgan-Bret