Children are curious by their very nature; this is how they learn. On a daily basis, they will ask their parents, siblings and teachers hundreds of questions; ranging from why bananas are yellow to why the weekend isn’t longer. Often, we respond with the knowledge we have, helping to ease their curiosity. However, sometimes we don’t have all the answers.
In 2020, parents all over the world were faced with millions of questions from their children. Who was Corona? Why couldn’t they go to school? Why couldn’t they hug their friends? When would they see grandma? When was it all going to end? These questions were born out of frustration. An uncertainty hung over our children, as their life as they knew it had grinded to a halt.
Parents also faced troubling times. They tried their utmost, to put on a brave face for their children, reassuring them that normality will soon resume, whilst within themselves searching for the exact same answers. Juggling both their professional career, with homeschooling, we were all forced to adjust to a new reality.
Initially, being off from school was a novelty. Children reveled in the weeks at home, chuffed that they had an extra holiday. However, as weeks turned into months, and seasons changed, children grew tired. They grew frustrated, not knowing when it would end, and when they would see their friends again. Their mental well-being being was affected, as they were isolated, anxious and uncertain about their future. Above all, they may been forced to confront greater anxieties: witnessing a relative, friend or teacher becoming seriously ill, or most tragically, experiencing the pain of loss and the shock and grief of bereavement.
A recent survey from Young Minds found that 80% of respondents agreed that the coronavirus pandemic had made their mental health worse. This was often related to increased feelings of anxiety, isolation, a loss of coping mechanisms or a loss of motivation.
As we are in yet another lockdown, you may be finding it difficult to juggle both your own mental health and that of your child. It is totally normal to feel overwhelmed, and if you are struggling, it is important to remember you are not alone.
To help you through this difficult time, here are seven tips on how you can support your child through a pandemic, and improve their well-being.
- Talk to them – and listen.
Although it does sound simple, often we undermine the importance of a good, open conversation. On a busy day, it can be difficult to set aside a time to have a conversation, with no distractions. If you are a parent to more than one child, you are often juggling duties, and making sure all your tasks and chores are done for that day. During this chaos, children may need you more than ever and may be anxious at the thought of separation. At the same time, they may be hesitant to pull you aside, knowing how busy you are. Therefore, it is important, to set a time aside, where your child has your undivided attention. There should be no distractions, no technological devices in sight, or juggling of duties. It can be just five minutes a day, where your child knows they can come to you, and address any concerns or thoughts they have.
This window in a child’s day, can help bring you closer together. It allows them to know that during this time, you are listening to them, and them alone. It creates for an open, honest, conversation which can bring up any issues they may have. Reassure them that it is okay to feel however they may – be it scared, angry, frustrated or sad – and that this difficult time will pass. Acknowledge how difficult this time is, whilst reminding them that you will get through this together.
You might find it difficult to initiate a conversation, particularly if you are worried about what your child may be silently enduring. Remember you know your child best – you can tell if they are not in the mood to talk or are unresponsive. The most important thing is to let them know you are there for them. You could start by asking them what they understand or what their friends are talking about. You can find more tips on starting a conversation with your child here.
Just as talking to them is important, good listening skills are equally critical and go hand-in-hand. Listening to children helps them feel heard. Always allow them to speak to you first and let them know you are always there to listen whenever they are ready to open up. Try to ensure that you do not interrupt your child and that you do not judge them. Never make them feel that they have to suppress their feelings.
2. Encourage expression and questions
It can be tiresome when children are extremely inquisitive. We don’t always have the answers, and the questions often come during crucial moments, such as when you’re answering the door or trying to meet that work deadline. However, during this pandemic, children may be more curious than usual. They are worried, and anxious about their future, just as we are. They may not show it, but they do have questions as to why everything has changed.
Even if you do not have all the answers, try to reassure them that this time will pass. Talking it through can help them feel calmer. Try to be honest with them, providing age-appropriate answers, whilst leaving them positive and hopeful. If you do not have time to answer their question at that time, ask them to remember it for a later time, where you can sit down and discuss it further.
Children look to adults to comfort them and will take the lead from you so it is important to remain calm and honest, not to dismiss or unnecessarily shield them. You may need to gauge their level of understanding before deciding how much detail to go into. You too can share your own fears and worries, calmly with them. If your child knows that you are willing to answer their questions, then they will not feel reluctant to approach you with their concerns and worries. This will help them be more expressive and open with you, in the long term.
Older children, who may have seen or read a lot about COVID-19 online or on TV, may feel overwhelmed by everything they are absorbing. It may help to limit the amount of times they check the news, but bear in mind it will be impossible to shield them from the news altogether. With so much scaremongering and misinformation around, always encourage them to get information from reputable sources, like the NHS and government websites.
Your child may worry about their own health and that of close family members. Reassure your child that it is unlikely they will get seriously ill and that you will be there to take care of them. You can give them practical tips of how they can keep themselves safe, with thorough hand washing, social distancing and wearing a face mask.
3. Keeping a routine
With weekends and weekdays morphing together, it can be difficult to stick to a routine. As children are no longer going to school, they may push boundaries and stay up a little later. However, as they face uncertainty on a greater scale, it is important for them to feel stable and secure within their own home. This can be done by sticking as closely as possible to their regular routine, whether that is for bed times, waking, meals and hobbies. This will keep them healthier, aid their sleeping habits and enable them to feel a sense of normality. This will also help them transition back to a normal routine when returning to school. Whilst routine and structure are important, at the same time try to get the balance right and avoid being too rigid. Sometimes it may suffice to select a few key things to do at the same time each day or in the same order to reassure them. As we are living in unprecedented times, be prepared to be flexible. Sometimes this may mean following their cues – so if that means there is no homework that afternoon and instead a relaxing activity, be patient and be prepared to adjust your schedule.
4. Practice Good Sleep Hygiene
Getting good sleep is vital for your child’s physical and mental wellbeing. The amount of sleep they need varies and changes as they grow. A five year old needs roughly 11 hours a night, whereas a nine year old needs approximately 10 hours. Find out more about how much sleep your child needs here.
Doing the same relaxing things in the same order and at the same time each night helps promote good sleep. A warm bath before bed can help your child relax. Keep the lights dim in their room and at a temperature of 16-20 degrees Celsius. Hang some thermal blackout or sound proof curtains to block out any light or sound from outside.
Most importantly, keep their bedroom a screen-free zone. If your teenager has a phone, get them to charge them in another room and encourage them to stop using screens an hour before their bedtime. Instead, encourage your children to do a quiet activity in bed such as reading, listening to Qur’an and reciting their du’as. This could also be a perfect time for some intimate conversation.
If your child continues to have problems sleeping, you may need more support. Don’t hesitate to speak to your GP, who may refer you to a child psychologist or sleep clinic.
5. Keep fit
Children are spending hours sitting down. They spend their days in front of the laptops for school, and then settle into the sofa for the evening. This limits the exercise they do, making children unhealthier than ever before. This is even more the case as it is Winter, with no one especially keen to get out and about for a walk.
However, it is important to keep your children fit by encouraging them to do a workout or even to go for a stroll in the park as a family. There are plenty of online workouts for children and families at the moment to try. Doing exercise helps raise your mood, self-esteem and makes you feel more accomplished. It also helps you get better sleep!
Over 30 children have signed up for the HHUGS virtual Winter Walk year, with our youngest being a mere 22 months old. The Winter Walk is a great opportunity for you to get your children motivated, and benefit both their mental and physical health whilst staying safe.
6. Keep them productive and connected
For many, the pandemic provided ample opportunity to spend time together as a family. Many parents for the first time could enjoy dinner as a family and do activities together. During this time, where children are unable to spend time with their friends, try to spend more time together as a family, on a one to one basis.
Help them explore new hobbies, and do things together that you enjoy as a family. Activities can help you bond, help children feel calmer and provide opportunities for you to talk through their concerns, without the formality of a chat. Bake or cook together, play a board game, or build an indoor den, take a walk or go out for a drive, whatever suits you!
Encourage them to be expressive, be it through journaling, drawing, or painting, and to do those things that help them when they find things difficult. This will help them channel their feelings into something positive and enable them to process their emotions, and practice a skill. It could even be exercise, gardening, reading their favourite book or watching a film together.
It is important to allow them to stay connected with family members and friends via technology. A video call or a phone call by a loved one can really raise their spirits, make them feel connected once again and some sense of normality! Be aware of the time they are spending online, and supervise younger children but do not stress too much about screen time in these days. Children pick up on their parent’s stress and you will probably feel less overwhelmed if you lower your expectations in some of these areas during the lockdown.
Whilst it is important to spend time together, make sure that teenagers also get their alone time and choose what they want to do.
7. Be aware, be vigilant.
It is normal if your child’s behaviour is a bit more challenging than usual at the moment. Children and young people often express how they’re feeling through their behaviour. Many young people are feeling uncertain, anxious or frustrated right now.
However, it is important to be aware of signs to look out for that something more serious may be wrong.
It is normal to feel
low or anxious at times. 1-8 young people experience behavioural and emotional
problems in their childhood. Some will resolve with time. But if these problems
persistent or affect them significantly, they may require professional support.
Keep an eye out for:
- significant changes in behaviour
- ongoing difficulty sleeping
- withdrawing from social situations
- not wanting to do things they usually like
- self-harm or neglecting themselves
If you are worried about your child’s mental health, contact your GP. There is a lot of professional support out there that parents and young people can access even whilst in lockdown.
Muslim Youth Helpline
If you’re under 19 you can confidentially call, chat online or email about any problem big or small.
Can provide a BSL interpreter if you are deaf or hearing-impaired.
Hosts online message boards where you can share your experiences, and get support from other young people in similar situations.
Phone: 0800 1111
Opening times: 9am – midnight, 365 days a year
Specialist youth helpline for people aged 13-20; 3pm – 6pm, Monday – Friday; 6pm – 8pm, Thursdays and Saturdays.
Call 01952 680835 for a recorded breathing exercise to help you through a panic attack (available 24/7).
Information about call costs here.
Email: [email protected]
Provides free, 24/7 text support for young people across the UK experiencing a mental health crisis.
All texts are answered by trained volunteers, with support from experienced clinical supervisors.
Texts are free from EE, O2, Vodafone, 3, Virgin Mobile, BT Mobile, GiffGaff, Tesco Mobile and Telecom Plus.
Texts can be anonymous, but if the volunteer believes you are at immediate risk of harm, they may share your details with people who can provide support.
Text: YM to 85258
Opening times: 24/7
Offers support to anyone under 25 about anything that’s troubling them.
Email support available via their online contact form.
Free 1-2-1 webchat service available.
Free short-term counselling service available.
Phone: 0808 808 4994
Opening times: 4pm – 11pm, seven days a week