Updated on 10 July 2020
Children and teenagers might be experiencing a range of emotions because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. They might feel anxious about what they see on the news, upset that they can no longer see their friends and frustrated that their weekend activities have been cancelled. If they are not going to school or unable to do their exams, they might worry about the long-term impact this could have.
Indeed, a study by the University of Oxford (April 2020) revealed that a third of parents (33%) said their child was worried about catching COVID-19 and around a fifth (19%) said their children were concerned about being able to get food and other essentials. Almost a fifth of parents (17%) said their younger children were afraid to leave the house.
As parents and carers, you’ll need to support them through this uncertain time and make sure they feel safe and loved. You might have to discuss some complex issues, answer difficult questions and put new rules in place for things like hygiene and screen time. At the same time, you’ll be concerned about your family’s health and may be under added pressure if your livelihood could be affected by coronavirus.
The Good Thinking team has put together the following tips to help you keep things as normal as possible at home, focus on the positives and support your whole family’s mental wellbeing at this time. For the latest guidance on what you can and cannot do during lockdown, visit the UK Government website.
It’s useful to have regular conversations about what is going on. You know your child best so consider any concerns they might have and the questions they might ask. Stick to the facts, acknowledge their fears and reassure them that you’re there for them.
It’s a good idea to focus on what is in their control (e.g. hand washing, no face touching) and to explain how this will help them, their loved ones and other people.
As schools are now open for some year groups, this DfE guidance might be helpful.
Your child will take cues from you so try to stay calm when you’re around them, even if you’re feeling stressed about the situation. Coronavirus is unsettling for all of us and, for children and young people, it might result in changes in behaviour.
Younger children might become more clingy or agitated. Teenagers might withdraw or get angry. Let your child feel their emotions, calmly reassure them and give them lots of love and attention.
Stick to a routine and set some boundaries
Children are used to having a routine and a school timetable so it’s useful to put one in place while they’re at home.
Agree as a family what it will look like – you might even decide to draw one up and put it on the wall. If their school is providing online learning, prioritise lesson times, then add things like exercise, screen time, chores, fresh air breaks and bedtime.
If your child has a mobile, tablet or games console, remind them how to stay safe online and check that the relevant parental controls are set up on the device.
Focus on the positives
We often feel like we don’t have the right work/life balance. If you’re working from home or self-isolating with your family, this is a good opportunity to improve that. You can eat together, play together and learn together.
Even if you’re cut off from family and friends, technology means you can still stay in touch. Kids can FaceTime with granny or WhatsApp their friends. You might like to set up a family or friends group chat so you can check in on each other.
There’s also a real sense of communities pulling together at the moment. You could talk to your child about this and give specific examples (like how their favourite football club is delivering food to elderly people) and get them involved in an activity to help others. Some children have been drawing rainbows and putting them in their windows, for example.
Get support for home learning
If your child’s school already puts work online (more likely if they are at secondary school), this should continue. Talk to their teacher about what you can expect. You can also make the most of websites and apps such as BBC Bitesize, Duolingo and Google Earth.
While formal learning remains important, there are lots of other ways you can ‘teach’ your child at home and have fun at the same time – bake a cake together, take a virtual tour of a museum, play a board game. Lots of celebrities are sharing their skills online – check out story time with David Walliams, drum lessons with @HarryJudd on Instagram and wildlife Q&A with @SteveBackshall on Twitter.
Every child is in the same boat so don’t worry about them regressing academically. Their teachers will fill any knowledge gap when they return to school.
If you have any safeguarding concerns about your child or another child, please speak to their school or contact the NSPCC.
Keep fit and healthy
It’s just as important as ever to focus on healthy eating and physical exercise.
Try to maintain a balanced diet – you might need to limit the number of unhealthy snacks your son or daughter has while they’re at home. As some shops may not have fresh fruit and vegetables in stock, look for alternatives, such as tinned fruit and healthy soups.
While they are missing their PE lessons, dance classes and rugby matches, your child will need to let off steam. Get on YouTube to do a family workout with Joe Wicks (The Body Coach), go to the BBC’s Super Movers website or download a yoga app that you can all do together. Think healthy body, healthy mind.
Look after yourself
Taking care of your child, trying to keep everyone healthy, keeping on top of your work... it’s a 24/7 job and can be stressful and exhausting. Make sure you take care of yourself as well as everyone around you at this time.
You might find it useful to follow the five steps to mental wellbeing, which are available on the NHS website: 1) Connect with other people, 2) Be physically active, 3) Learn new skills, 4) Give to others and 5) Pay attention to the present moment (mindfulness).
If you have an existing mental health condition and you’re finding it particularly tough at the moment, talk to someone you trust or contact a support helpline, such as Family Lives or MIND. The apps and other resources available on Good Thinking might also be helpful and many of them are free to Londoners.
Try not to put too much pressure on yourself for everything to be perfect over the coming weeks and months. How your child feels during this period (safe, loved, comforted) will stay with them long after the memory of what they did.
If you’re feeling anxious, stressed, sad or having trouble sleeping, Good Thinking has lots of useful apps and other resources. You might also find our podcasts with headteacher Emma Murray (education in the time of coronavirus), the BBC's Catherine McAllister (online safety) and digital wellbeing expert Tania Goodin (screen/life balance) interesting.