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How COVID-19 impacts children and young people’s mental health is a concern for many. What can parents do to help?

Talk to your child about the facts.

Children need to be aware of what’s happening so they can keep themselves and others safe, even from a young age: A friend with a 3 year old talks about the “yucky” germs that are making people ill, the need to wash their hands and to be careful when out and about.

Knowing the facts can also help with managing emotions. Reassure your children that experts are working around the clock to keep us safe.

Talk with your child about their feelings.

Don’t be afraid to bring up the topic and share your own feelings too. These worries are natural reactions to a scary situation.

Encourage your child to talk by asking them open questions about how they are feeling.

  • If it feels too heavy or serious, try talking about it during an activity you are already engaging in together – that way your child may be more likely to open up about their feelings.

Listen to children’s fears and worries “What makes it scary?” and validate them “That does sound scary”, “I know it is a worrying time”.

Labelling feelings will help your child to understand their emotions. For younger children especially, who may lack the skills to express themselves sufficiently, it’s helpful provide the emotion words and put it into context “I can see you’re upset at not being able to play with your friends”.

Model good behaviour.

Labelling feelings is the first step to managing them appropriately.

~All feelings are valid, it’s what we do with them that matters~

Parents need to employ their own stress management strategies to present a calm demeanour to their children. That’s not to say you have to be a robot! Showing vulnerability and expressing your own emotions in a healthy way is an opportunity to model good behaviour.

Encourage your child to come up with some strategies to help manage these feelings:

  • What makes them feel calm? What brings them joy?
  • Do they need a quiet space to be alone and read? To be distracted with fun activities and games? To interact with others?

Having a go-to list can help children (and adults!)

Create a visual timetable!

Many children find sticking to a routine helps to regulate their emotions.

  • A visual timetable may help younger children compartmentalise small tasks for each day and know what they should try and do. Again, start small. Aim for just one goal a day. If they like checking things off, even better!

Keep in contact with others.

  • If you’re feeling ‘Zoom fatigue’ letter writing can be a fun, creative activity with delivery incorporated on your daily walk

Give children a manageable goal for the day so they can feel a sense of achievement.

  • Not only do they learn new skills but they receive a boost to their self-esteem – especially after praise.
  • The goal can be something to help parents (e.g. preparing and serving lunch) so the whole family benefits!

What can children control?

  • If possible, setting up a special corner for schoolwork or some down-time can help children feel a sense of “normalcy”.
  • But remember, you don’t need to replicate school at home – you are just providing children with their own space to feel comfortable.

Having something to look forward to can really help.

  • Fill up a jar with ideas for all the fun activities you will do when the lockdown is lifted.

Take time to be grateful.

  • “What 3 things are you grateful for today?”
  • “What was a good thing that happened? What was a not-so good thing?”

Trust in your child.

Allow them space to work through their emotions, particularly through play. Providing a nurturing space will allow children to feel safe and comfortable to come to you when they have questions and give you an all-important breather.

This is a new situation and children’s different reactions to it are to be expected. Know that these new behaviours will pass. What they need is reassurance and to see how adults get through this together.

Trust in yourself.

Your first role is a parent, not teacher. Providing a safe, supportive environment for your child is the most important thing you can do (and likely something you are already doing).

Be kind – to yourself and others.

We’re all trying our best in a strange, new situation. Breaking things down into small steps and lowering our expectations may help. Everything works better when we show kindness to ourselves and others – in fact it’s the theme of this year’s mental health awareness week.

Dr Claire Forrest (@DrC_Fo) is a Research Fellow on the Nuffield Foundation funded project: Empowering staff to enhance oral language in the early years and based at the Department of Psychology and Human Development, University College London.


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