How to boost your children's mental health
When it comes to our health, we’re taking precautions like never before. The anxiety, uncertainty, and fear of getting ill - not to mention the absence of daily routines, lack of social connections, and disruptions to education - are all aspects of the coronavirus crisis that could negatively affect our mental health.
Families across the nation are doing their part to endure the war on coronavirus. But the collective trauma and worry has made our mental health just as vulnerable as physical health. For young people in particular, mental wellbeing is a key concern, and parents are confused about how to address their growing fears.
In addition to worries about becoming unwell, children and young people are dealing with huge disruption to their lives. Most of them will be concerned about how the closure of schools will impact their education, especially students with A-Levels and GCSEs.
Some have managed to find happiness amid the pandemic, with cancelled exams lifting a weight off their shoulders. For others it’s a real challenge. “I was due to undertake my GCSEs this summer, it’s a mile-stone in my life,” says 16-year-old local resident Hannah. “Canceling exams and just handing me a grade doesn’t feel all that rewarding. I feel gutted and really anxious about my future - I don’t feel like I would have earned my grades.”
Chris O’Berg, a local parent, says that the stress caused by lack of routine is compounded by the high levels of anxiety around us. “With schools closed, my children are directly experiencing social distancing and high levels of isolation. They are exposed to endless news stories and social commentaries about the virus. I can’t always control the intake.”
Since the onset of the crisis, ChildLine has reported a higher demand for counselling sessions. A survey by Young Minds involving kids suffering from mental health issues revealed that 83% of them are worse off than they were before the pandemic started. “Many mental health issues begin in childhood, so it is imperative that any needs for mental health are identified and treated early, especially during this stressful period,” says Mary Lou Al-Saedy, a local psychotherapist. “If left untreated, a child’s development could be negatively impacted, resulting in social and mental health disorders later in life.”
But what steps can parents take to address Covid-19’s impact on their children? When it comes to crises, our minds instinctively minimise the part of our brain that allows us to plan for the future. Instead, we focus on a more immediate and primal response to a threat. If this persists, we stop being able to self-sooth. Understanding the way we live in this crisis is the initial step in balancing our thinking and health.
“Children suffering from mental health issues will be significantly impacted by the ways their parents are coping. Considering the wellness of the entire family is crucial,” explains Mary-Lou. “Daily structure is important to everyone, but particularly to children in their psychological and emotional development. If parents' wellbeing is good, children who are distressed may settle, they may begin to develop self-discipline or self-soothe, and have a sense of safety and control. A routine could include regular exercise and participation in productive activities, such as cooking.”
Experts believe that self-management of anxiety is the strongest approach to helping children feel secure. “During times like these, our minds are constantly trying to know about, assess and make sense of the many changes, so we can easily start being disproportionately preoccupied with everything that is happening to us and start feeling anxious and out of control,” says Pia Stanchina, a local life and business coach.
Covid-19 has led many of us to feel out of control, when we feel anxious it can be helpful to look at the 'sphere of control' method, the simple diagram above shows what we can control, what we can influence and what is out of our control. Below we have outlined a fun yet effective exercise to include in your daily routines and to try with your children.
Step 1: What is in our control - an example of something in our control is our thoughts or practical action.
Step 2: What’s not in our control, but may be influenced by us - an example of something in the circle of influence is encouraging our loved ones to stay at home.
Step 3: Factors that are outside our control - an example is the virus itself.
A breakdown of these steps will help us understand all the things that concern us and help us realise we have more power than we think over things out of our control.
Top tips for looking after your mental wellbeing while at home:
Think about a daily routine, this gives a sense of security. Try developing set times for breakfast, exercise, play and school work, get the children involved in creating a timetable.
It’s tempting to turn to crisps and biscuits in a crisis, but eating healthy food will really help you to feel better, it’s good for your mood. Check out some of our recipes here. If you’re struggling with paying for food at this time, food banks are available across the borough. We have listed a few here.
Even if it’s something as simple as star jumps in the garden, exercise can really help you feel better. If you can’t get out for a walk, check out some of the exercises you can do here.
Honest communication can help to ease anxiety for you and your children. Reassure children that this isn’t forever. There will be an end point to this pandemic.
Ask your children to help with the chores, to give them a sense of responsibility.
Encourage as much virtual communication as possible with friends and family. Screen time may not seem ideal, but it’s important they maintain those bonds.
If you have been affected by this article, you can contact the following organisations for support: mind.org.uk, https://youngminds.org.uk/, nhs.uk/livewell/mentalhealth, mentalhealth.org.uk, samaritans.org, https://www.anxietyuk.org.uk/, www.family-action.org.uk.