With schools closing, the return to online learning and parents having to juggle homeschooling has brought additional stress and worry for many. While we may not yet know when schools will reopen, there are simple steps you can take to help support your children and yourselves through this time.
We’re living through a public health emergency, and one important thing to remind ourselves is that it’s ok to be surviving each day rather than thriving right now.
Here we’ve put together some tips from one of our clinicians Gillian, about what you can do to help support your children while navigating school closures and the pandemic.
You are doing enough. You are supporting them through a difficult time. Look after yourself too.
Place relationships front and centre
Anxiety and frustrations can naturally run high when everyone is trying to work and study from home.
The smallest interactions such as small moments of simple, empathetic, human connection such as a brief hug or chat, a cheeky smile or a moment of warm eye-contact can make a huge difference in helping your child feel safe and regulated during the day.
It’s also important to spend time with friends and peers; we need human interaction and it’s particularly important as part of development and mental wellbeing, too.
You can help your teenager by supporting them to spend time with their peers in a ‘safe’ way, such as going for a socially distanced walk or carving out time to Facetime their friends. It’s not always easy, but by giving them permission and supporting them to feel safe can arguably help with wellbeing during this challenging time.
Play time can help cope with uncertainty and stress
For ALL ages (yes adults too!) play is a great healer. It can make us laugh, help us to feel present and encourage creativity. Play is also a great teacher and it could offer a release for your child, helping them to cope with uncertainty and stress!
There are many different ways you can play, such as rough and tumble (for example, wrestling, tickling and contact sports and trampolining), creativity (for example, drawing, story-telling, playdough, baking, dancing, reading, colouring, building, innovating…) and of course movement, preferably outside and around nature.
Here are five reasons encouraging play could be supportive for your child:
- Young people can often find their feelings difficult to put into words. Through art and story-telling, your young person might share with you some feelings or open up about a situation they are finding challenging or upsetting. This is a fantastic opportunity to listen and talk about what’s going on within them just now and provide support and empathy.
- Art and music promote joy. Our brains are wired to benefit from creativity. When we are creative, our brain chemically rewards us!
- Exercising the imagination enhances cognitive flexibility and creativity. This skill will benefit your child for a lifetime.
- Involve others. When other children and/or parents are involved in the play, children learn how to verbally express their ideas and learn important communication skills such as listening to others.
- Get outside. Fresh air, the outdoors, sunshine, rain, snow, puddles, tree climbing, playing chase with the dog…the list is endless, but getting outside is simply healthy for you and your child. Get away for an hour or two from to-do lists and screens and into nature to feel the impact on your wellbeing.
Have a routine
While being flexible and adaptable with children is important, especially now, so too is consistency and routine. Most young people benefit from clearly laid out boundaries to feel safe (both mentally and physically).
What might a good routine look like?
On weekdays for example, you could help your child to organise a light routine for their day that feels manageable and varied, some of which they can manage for themselves and some of which you can support them with.
Include school-work and lessons if necessary (via their online classes and there are many thoughtful digital resources available to support parents and teachers at this time also), time for reading (independent or via an audio book), some practical hands on maths (through cooking or maths games either physical or digital), some art/music or creativity, mindfulness, going outside or any kind of movement and exercise, and time for taking a break to eat, talk to friends and rest and relax.
Try your best to not think about what is expected of them or what would be if things were ‘normal’. Life is not normal. So we could instead help them to accomplish what feels right and possible for them and in turn build their confidence and self-belief.
You are doing enough. You are supporting them through a difficult time. Look after yourself too. Minimising stress is absolutely vital in a time like this for mental health.
Re-evaluate your values
Covid-19 and the lockdowns we’ve been facing have caused many of us to reflect on what really matters to us during this time. For many, that means reassessing values and making changes to our lives going forwards, rather than reverting back to old habits.
See this as an opportunity to engage your children and family in thinking about what really matters too. What matters the most to you now and how do you practise that?
A lot of the young people I have worked with this year have mentioned they feel like failures, with mental and emotional issues being exacerbated. As we said earlier, it’s important to remember we are surviving right now, and it can help to re-define ‘success’ during this time in a way that will benefit them for the rest of their lives, and put the support in place that will benefit them and support you to take best care of them too.
Accept it's tough and don't suffer alone
Some days will just be hard. Everyone will be in a bad mood. ‘Nothing’ will get done. Your mental and emotional health might suffer. Try to accept that; practice patience and compassion with yourself, express and regulate your feelings and ask for help when you need it. In doing so you will be able to be there for your children, too.
I repeat, let’s simply focus on surviving, and maybe some days even surviving well.