14th April 2020
Advice for parents and carers
During this time there are lots of things you can do and support available to take care of your family’s mental health.
Look after your own mental health and wellbeing
Although this is a very challenging time for us all, when parents and caregivers can deal with a situation calmly and confidently, they can provide the best support for their children and young people. This requires parents and caregivers to look after their own mental health.
Helping children and young people cope with stress
Regardless of age, now (or possibly later on) may be a difficult time for children and young people. Some ways you can support your child or young person are to:
Listen and acknowledge
Children and young people may respond to stress in different ways but may feel less anxious if they are able to express and communicate their feelings in a safe and supportive environment. You can:
- Look out for any changes in their behaviour (e.g. bed wetting, tantrums, nightmares, acting out, fighting) negative emotions (e.g. sadness, anger, anxiety) or thinking (e.g. trouble concentrating) or physical symptoms (e.g. stomach aches)
- Interpret their feelings and listen if they can communicate them
- Acknowledge their feelings and give them extra love and attention if they need it.
Provide clear information about the situation:
Talking openly about what is happening and providing honest answers to any questions will help children and young people feel that their parents and caregivers can keep them safe. Use age appropriate words and explanations they can understand to say what is being done to keep them and their loved ones safe, including any actions they can take, such as washing their hands regularly.
It will not always be possible to provide answers to all the questions they may ask, or to allay all their concerns, so focus on listening and acknowledging their feelings to help them feel supported.
Consider limiting the amount of exposure you and your family get to troubling media coverage but talk about what they have seen and heard
Like us, children and young people may become more distressed if they see repeated coverage in the media. Young people will inevitably hear things from friends and social media so talk to them about what is going on and ask them what they have heard about. Try to answer their questions, correct any misinformation and reassure them in an age-appropriate manner, avoiding too much detail where possible.
Create a new routine
Life is changing for all of us for a while. Routine gives children and young people an increased feeling of safety in the context of uncertainty, so think about how to develop a new routine:
- Make a plan for the day or week that includes time for learning, playing and relaxing.
- You may want to ask teachers what you can do to support continued learning at home. Online educational resources and activities to support children’s learning are available from the BBC.
- Children and young people ideally need to be active for 60 minutes a day, which can be more difficult when spending longer periods of time indoors. Plan time outside if you can do so safely or see Change4Life for some ideas for indoor games and activities.
- Try to keep to existing bedtime routines, as sleep is really important for mental and physical health.
- Similarly, so is a healthy balanced diet where possible – see Change4Life for simple recipe ideas, including healthy treats.
Use phones and video calling to promote your child or young person’s contact with friends and extended family. If it is necessary for you or your children to be in a different location to normal (e.g. staying at home in different locations or hospitalisation) make sure you still have regular and frequent contact via the phone or video calls with them. Try to help your child understand what arrangements are being made for them and why in simple terms.
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