Now is a time when we need to stay close to our children so that they feel safe and secure, and know that they’re loved, listened to and cared for.
But with schools shut for the foreseeable future and many parents and carers now working from home, so many of us are struggling to find the time and the energy to manage our competing responsibilities.
To help regain some control, here are some ways that you can find comfort and connection with your children right now.
Validate their feelings
It’s incredibly important to make sure your children know their feelings are valid. Create a space where they feel that you’re responding to their concerns with care and share with them how you’re feeling (age appropriate). For example, “I know sometimes I look worried but grown-ups get scared too at times, just like children, but I’m OK.”
Honesty is often the best policy
With many of us trying to re-adjust to a hugely changed routine, it may feel confusing to your children if you pretend that everything is fine and ignore the messages around them. Explaining things clearly can help. Try “This is a sickness, a bit like the flu, some people may get it, including some of our family. We are focusing on ways to get through this time and help as many people as we can to stay well, which is why we have to stay inside.”
Acknowledge that things have changed
Talk openly about the changes and disruptions to daily life and remind them that things will start up again over time. Perhaps explore ways that you can do versions of the things they usually do at school, at home.
Some things don’t change
Tell them regularly that you love them, and this will never change, although some other things will change for a while. Aim to create a routine and have some structured time throughout the day, such as keeping bedtime and mealtime routines fairly consistent. Help them to stay in touch with friends and other members of the family, to help reassure them that there are many people who care about them.
Remind them that you are here whenever they need anything, and that you will try and answer any questions they have. If you don’t have the answers at that moment, tell them you will do your best to find out. Even if you need to go out to work during this time, remind them that you are thinking of them when you’re apart.
Fun time is essential
Creating space for fun is just as important as ever and will help them to use up any anxious energy they may have. It’s also a good distraction and may help you together as a family to relax. Let them lead the way in what they would like to do at times. “Let’s do some things that you enjoy.” It helps them feel important and to have some element of control when things around them are disrupted.
Use lessons from history to put it into perspective
Find time to explore situations through history where difficult things have happened and how people have come together to work things out. Remind them that there are many Doctors and scientists who are working hard to come up with solutions. A great example is Horrible Histories which is popular with many children and may provide some interesting learning and much needed new perspective.
Creativity is cool!
Art and crafts are fantastic ways to occupy children, help them to express their feelings and make sense of what’s going on around them. Think about creating a notice board of all the things you will plan to do when things start up again, with friends, at school etc. Help them to think about all the things they have already done that they’ve enjoyed.
All is calm, all is quiet
Set some time during the day to just be with your children and enjoy their presence; let them talk if they want to, but enjoying some peaceful and quite time can soothe them and help you both to feel calm. Watch a favourite TV programme, read a favoured book, listen to some music - whatever calms and soothes.
What are you thankful for and how can we be kind today?
Think of ways to orient them to what they’re grateful for so you can gently remind them that although things are difficult right now, there are some good things to focus on. This is important as the majority of the news is very anxiety provoking. Help them to focus on all the acts of kindness that are going on around them and how they can be kind.
And finally, be kind to yourself and practise self-compassion
Seek out ways to keep yourself as calm and centred as you can be. Remember: children are like sponges - which means they’re not only soaking up the events around them, but they’ll also be focusing on the way you’re responding to what’s happening.
Remember, you know the children you care for better than anyone. So, adapt these suggestions in ways that you think they will help best, and be age and language appropriate.
Looking for more support?
If your child needs more support, we recommend Kooth, the UK’s online mental health platform for young people aged 11 to 25. Kooth provides free and safe access to self-help articles, peer-to-peer forums, mood tracking and professionally trained counsellors.
Written by: Kirsty Lilley
Kirsty has delivered mindfulness and self-compassion courses to a wide variety of workplaces during her career and is also a trained psychotherapist and coach. She has worked at a strategic level within organisations developing wellbeing policies and been responsible for developing training courses on improving mental health and wellbeing. Kirsty is committed to an integrated and compassionate approach when helping others to fulfil their potential.
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