Coronavirus: Looking after your children’s mental health
Article by Dr Abi Parnell BCs (Hons), DClinPsych, CPsych
School Clinical Psychologist
Dr Parnell is passionate about promoting positive mental health in children, young people and families.
We are currently living in uncertain times and the constant news and talk about the Coronavirus pandemic can feel relentless and overwhelming for all of us.
Although most children and young people are at low physical risk from the virus, the current situation is at risk of impacting our children’s mental health. So what steps can we take to protect our children’s mental health?
1. Don’t be afraid to talk about the Coronavirus
Most children have already heard about the virus, at school or from their friends, so you shouldn’t avoid talking about it, and not talking about the virus can actually make children worry more. Inform your children of the facts, but do not overwhelm them with information. Your goal is to help your child feel informed, but also reassured.
Mindheart have created Covibook: a useful document that explains Coronvarius to younger children. You can download a copy of this here:
The BBC Newsround website also provides useful developmentally appropriate information regarding Coronavirus.
2. Focus on what children can do to stay safe
A useful way to help reassure children in times of uncertainty is to emphasise the safety precautions that are being taken to keep them safe and well. For example, we know that Coronavirus is transmitted through coughing and touching surfaces, so remind children that they can take care of themselves by washing their hands with soap and water when they come in from outside, before they eat and after blowing their noses, coughing, sneezing or going to the toilet. This may also mean being explaining to children why contact with certain important people in their lives (elderly relatives/those in vulnerable groups) may be limited to Facetime or telephone calls for a period of time.
3. Provide reassurance
Children are very egocentric, so hearing about coronavirus on the news or in the classroom may make them think that they will catch it. It is helpful to reassure your children that the Coronavirus is very rare (eg the flu is much more common), and most children and young people who catch it only experience very mild symptoms and recover quickly.
4. Be aware of your own responses
If you as a parent are feeling anxious or overwhelmed by the current situation, take steps to look after your own emotional wellbeing. This might include limiting exposure to news and social media, and staying informed by sticking to trusted sources of information such as government and NHS websites. If you notice that you are feeling anxious, take some time before trying to have a conversation or answer your child’s questions or worries.
Our children observe and watch how we, as their parents, deal with stress and uncertainly and are much more likely to respond with resilience and a sense of calmness if they see us doing the same.
5. What to do if you are concerned about your child’s mental health
If you are concerned about your child’s mental health in light of Coronavirus, or for any other reason, then you can speak to your GP or your child’s teacher at school for advice, support and if appropriate, signposting to specialist services.