COVID19 mental health and wellbeing: for children

family wallking together

Is your child struggling to understand or cope with the pandemic?

With schools closed and activities suspended, many children are likely to be feeling restless or irritable. They may not understand why they can’t see friends and family members outside their household, why holidays have been cancelled, and why their parents are at home all day. They may be affected by how tense adults seem, or be exposed to ‘fake news’ or worrying reports on social media, and indeed they may be the child of a key worker and be worried about their welfare. We’ve compiled some resources that will hopefully help parents and guardians to help their child make sense of our ‘new normal’, and see light at the end of the Covid tunnel. 

Children with medical or mental health problems may still need help during this time and for parents and clinicians facilitate this via the NHS when needed.  Professionals also need to be aware that families may be struggling even more economically currently, with food shortages being more marked, and some children being now in family situations which could be harmful for their emotional and psychological development.

This BBC video, an interview with a doctor, answers children’s questions about coronavirus, along with tips for parents:

Own It is a wellbeing ‘companion’ app developed by the BBC to help children make smart choices, feel more confident and get advice when they need it. It uses text analysis to give live companion feedback based on the sentiment of the messages children type so that, for example, those who type messages about being lonely or worried will be presented with pop-up companion information about useful content and reassurance to support them with the way they are feeling.

They have recently updated the app to be more sensitive to words related to the coronavirus, such as pandemic, isolation etc.  Another new feature includes the launch of ‘The Lowdown Lockdown’ and ‘Feeling Anxious or Scared?’ sections of the app, providing entertainment and content to help children live their ‘best digital life’ and tackle fears and support for children to understand that it is normal to have ups and downs. The app can be downloaded from the Apple or GooglePlay store. Under 13s will need parent or guardian permission first.

There are also useful infographics, mythbusters and resources on Helping children cope with stress during the COVID-19 outbreak (World Health Organization)

Finally, for parents of children with autism, a blog from the University’s Autism Centre for Education and Research explain how to reduce anxiety during lockdown

This BBC article has helpful information about helping kids cope with life without school. We’ve briefly summarised the top tips below:

      • Consistent routine – for example you might ensure kids do a couple of hours of schoolwork in the morning or that there is a specified time for crafts in the afternoon.
      • Get out, if you can – get some fresh air and exercise in your garden if you have one, or go for a short walk nearby if safe to do so while adhering to social distancing rules. Many people are putting teddy bears or rainbows in their windows for local children to spot, and you may wish to display something your children have made in your own window.
      • Play – some parents and carers are worried about their children falling behind their peers academically, but it’s also important to actively encourage play. Having fun is such a simple and effective way of creating positive memories, and that’s exactly what we want our children to face the future with. For more information see Dr Anita Soni’s blog on why children need play.
      • Limit the doom and gloom – it’s impossible to shield children from all the adult news, but consider limiting their exposure to more tailored formats such as the BBC’s Newsround, which consults experts on its likely psychological impact. Also make sure teenagers are not left in their rooms for hours on end searching the internet or using social media unsupervised.
      • Guilt and fear – children may not understand the need for social distancing and this may play into feelings of guilt if they think they have done something wrong and so it’s important to explain this is not their fault. They may also be fearful. Try to downplay their fears, but at the same time be realistic and don’t promise things you can’t be sure are true.
      • Exam fears – listen and be sympathetic to those worried about their exams being cancelled. Correct them if they think this will impact on their ability to go to university or get a job – because that should not be the case.
      • Be prepared to change – hold a family “review” at the end of every week to discuss how the arrangement is faring. Discussions between parents over their own coronavirus worries can wait until after children have gone to bed.
      • When will it end? Explaining the word “indefinite” might prove problematic but try to compare it to concepts they can better understand such as ‘a long summer holiday, but less fun’ for example.
      • Silver lining: Often we talk about parents not being able to spend enough time with their kids, so try to see the silver lining in this new work-life balance.

If your child takes part in hobbies such as dance, music tuition, gymnastics or sports, it’s worth checking with their usual tutor. Some clubs and activities have begun to offer online classes where possible, or have created instructional videos, so that children can stay connected to their pastimes and, sometimes, their friends too. Other activities worth considering are live YouTube workout classes and the new BBC Bitesize website, which offers free daily lessons for each key stage as well as tips for teaching at home. 

Parents may themselves be worried about their new role as their child’s educator. Although routine and learning are still important, you must be fair to yourself and accept that you’re not a professional teacher (unless you are!) and also that everyone is in the same boat – your child will not fall behind their peers. 

Some teachers have suggested using this time to teach your child what they want to learn. Cook or bake with them, garden, design and build things, be creative, and learn about the world around us through walks, virtual zoo webcams, documentaries and so on. This could be a golden opportunity to teach all sorts of life skills that your child will no doubt remember fondly. 

Support from the Royal College of Psychiatrists

Information about managing your own or someone else’s mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic, including accessing medication, coping with anxiety, and specific advice for younger people. 

Supporting your child during the coronavirus pandemic (YoungMinds)

Tips, advice and where to get support for your child’s mental health during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Talking to your child about Coronavirus (YoungMinds)

If your child is worried or anxious about coronavirus, here’s our Parent Helpline experts’ tips on what you can do.

Project #Silverlining (XenZone)

At XenZone the creators of Kooth – the country’s biggest digital mental health community – we want to help spread your ideas and thoughts about keeping happy during these unprecedented times. Share your stories and tips with us using the links below or read on how others are coping with the world-wide isolation.

Guide to helping parents answer questions from their children (Place2Be)

How can you support your child, and yourself, with concerns around coronavirus? Place2Be has shared some tips, and some useful resources, to put this in context. 

Supporting parents and carers through disruption (The Anna Freud Centre/YouTube)

This video provides guidance to parents and carers about how they can help children and young people manage their mental health and wellbeing during any disruption caused by the coronavirus.

Teaching children with autism at home

This blog, from the University of Birmingham’s Autism Cemtre for Education and Research, offers practical tips on how to approach teaching your child if they have autism, and how to manage a scenario none of us were prepared for. 

girl on bike ride, with dog

Information pack for parents of children with SEND (Amaze)

Amaze has worked with the local authority and health services in Brighton and Hove to try and answer some pressing questions from parents about how the coronavirus outbreak may affect families.

Information about coronavirus – easy read (Mencap)

Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a new type of illness. There are now a number of people in the UK who have got it and it is spread easily. Because of this, Mencap has created some easy read information about Coronavirus for you to use.

Talking to children about coronavirus (The British Psychological Society)

The British Psychological Society have put together some useful tips, advice and links to articles that you might find helpful in dealing with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Tips for families: coronavirus (Zero to Three)

The resources on this page offer tips for families including age-appropriate responses to common questions, a guide to self-care, and activities for young children experiencing social distancing.

Deep breathing exercises for kids (Coping Skills for Kids)

The goal of calming exercises is to go from “flight, fight or freeze” mode back to “rest and digest” mode. Deep breathing helps get more oxygen into the bloodstream and has a physical effect on your body to help lower stress. Deep breathing makes a big difference for kids, this article will help you teach them how to to use deep breathing to lower stress.

Co-SPACE study

The Co-SPACE study looks at how families are coping during the covid-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, and what parents can do to help support their children’s mental health.  The findings will be shared to help others to provide the right support.

Kooth (XenZone)

Kooth is a free, safe anonymous online counselling and support service for children and young people aged 10 to 25. It’s open until 10pm every evening, 365 days a year. Young people can access Kooth’s counselling service and self help resources, such as: 10 ways you can manage coronavirus panic and Yoga for physical and mental wellbeing.

A Children’s Guide to Coronavirus (Great Minds Together)

This is a very simple guide which explains a bit more about coronavirus like the common symptoms, what we can do to prevent the spread of the virus and what to do if you or any of your family catch the virus.

What to do if you’re worried about Coronavirus (YoungMinds)

If the current news on coronavirus (COVID-19) is making you feel anxious, concerned or stressed, this page will give you some things to do.

Coronavirus Support for Young People (National Youth Agency)

The NYA have put together a useful document to help you keep calm, stay connected and be safe during the coronavirus outbreak.

Covid-19 outbreak – How to look after your wellbeing (Living Life to the Full for Young People)

Looking after your well-being is important at all times, however during these extra testing times, we may be finding even if we usually keep well, that we are suffering from increased anxiety and stress. This page will help you think about the things you can control, when the world feels scary.

small boy reading

Worries about the world

A page on the Childline website which can help if they’re feeling anxious about coronavirus 

Coronavirus – an animation (Brain Pop)

Find out more about how viruses work, and the best ways to prevent them from infecting more people. Viruses can’t spread without our help, so click the link to learn how not to help them!

GoZen! An online social and emotional learning program

GoZen! creates online social and emotional learning programs loved by kids ages 5-15, parents, professionals, and schools. The site helps children and young people transform challenging feelings into confidence, courage, and resilience.

Supporting young people through disruption (The Anna Freud Centre/YouTube)

Advice for young people about managing their mental health and wellbeing during the coronavirus situation.

Dave the Dog book coverFor younger children, Dave the Dog is Worried About Coronavirus is a freely-downloadable book from Nurse Dotty Books, which aims to share information without creating fear, in an age appropriate way. Click the book title to download. 

Coronavirus - coverOlder (primary school age) children might enjoy Coronavirus – a book for children, which has been illustrated by Axel Scheffler (of Gruffalo fame!)  It explains why we’re doing the things we’re doing to help control the virus, aiming to inform and reassure in a child-friendly way. Click the book title to download. 

If you have had COVID-19, or are a researcher looking for patient perspectives, a new Facebook group has been established to discuss all aspects of research, for engagement, involvement and participation purposes. It can be found at Covid Research Involvement Group UK – please note it is not affiliated with our BHP members