Emma Martin is an educational psychologist employed full-time by E-ACT multi-academy trust. She supports our primary academies in Bristol and is co-author of our national Relationships and Recovery Curriculum.
Keeping children entertained can be an arduous task at the best of times, let alone when families are stuck at home for days on end as a result of the lockdown. Add to the mix the pressures of home schooling and day jobs, it is no surprise that many parents are feeling overwhelmed, stressed, exhausted and even fed up.
How then can we help our parents and carers to support themselves and their children, who may be worrying about COVID-19 just as much as we adults are? Whether they’re learning from home or in school, here are some of the things we can be encouraging our parents to do at home to support their child’s mental health during lockdown 3.0.
Encourage parents to talk to their children openly and honestly about what is happening
Children often imagine situations to be far worse than reality, so it is important to be honest, to listen and to offer reassurance. For example, if a parent is a key worker, their children may have worries about their safety, so parents should be encouraged to acknowledge those fears whilst reminding them of all the things they are doing to keep safe at work.
Parents should let their children know that their feelings are normal.
We often want to fix things for our children or take away their worries, but by doing this we could inadvertently be discouraging them from sharing with us.
Instead of playing down their feelings or distracting them, parents should be encouraged to show empathy. They could say things like, ‘You seem quiet today. I wonder if you are feeling a bit worried about your online learning. It’s a big change and it’s okay to feel this way’.
Parents can help their children to externalise their worries
We can help our children to feel more in control of their worries by supporting them to find a way to process what they are feeling.
Parents should try talking about worry or anxiety as something that is separate to them. For example, if their child is reluctant to play outside they could say, ‘The anxiety is trying to stop you playing outside’. Some helpful questions might be, ‘Where can you feel the anxiety?’ or ‘What is the anxiety telling you to do?’
Nurturing our children’s resilience
Resilience is about being able to cope with stressful situations. By encouraging children to be open (see tip one), we are showing them positive ways to manage difficult situations. Parents could be encouraged to help their children to think of different solutions to a problem and then support them in following through. They should celebrate what goes well and help their children to remain calm when things become a struggle.
Encourage and support connection
Even if children are attending school at the moment, they may be missing friends who may not be in school like them. Keeping in touch doesn’t have to be virtual all the time, so families could be encouraged to allow an older child to meet a friend for a socially distanced walk and younger children to post handwritten notes through each other’s doors.
Help children to prepare for change
If we know a big change is coming, preparing children will help them feel safe and less worried. However, some changes happen very quickly and we do not have the time to prepare as we would have liked. Parents should be encouraged to acknowledge this and remind their children that they are not alone and that it is normal to feel worried when things change without warning.
Remembering to share positives
It can feel like everything is doom and gloom right now, so we should all try sharing positive stories where possible. Great examples include the incredible scientists who have developed vaccines or Marcus Rashford’s free school meals campaign. Families could also be encouraged to talk about the future during mealtimes and what their child is looking forward to when things settle.
Finally, let’s encourage parents to not forget about themselves…
It is really hard to support our children if we too are feeling down, so parents should be encouraged to make space for themselves and not feel guilty about it. All parents need alone time and it’s okay to find and take it.
Let’s encourage parents and carers to be kind to themselves and avoid trying to be the perfect parent all the time (which in reality does not exist!). Let’s also remind them that they’re doing a great job.