Being a parent can be a difficult job and being a parent at the moment is even tougher. Our media and social conversations are dominated by COVID-19, which exposes children to large amounts of information about ever increasing infection and death rates. Whilst the adults around them are understandably preoccupied with the implications of the pandemic, children are also experiencing substantial changes and restrictions to their day to day life. So while children are relatively unaffected by the virus directly, its psychological impact cannot be underestimated.
How can we take action to protect the psychological wellbeing of children during these turbulent times?
Even very young children are seeing or hearing things that could be scary or worrying. As adults we all have extra things to juggle at the moment, and that can make it even harder to be a parent. Things like not having our family or friends around, money worries or relationship difficulties can mean we feel quite anxious or frustrated ourselves.
It therefore matters more than ever that we talk to our children about what is happening. Research has shown that how we communicate with children about subjects such as illness can have an impact on parent's and children's psychological and physical wellbeing.
Children as young as 2 years old are aware that the world around them has changed. Children are affected by our feelings and behaviours without us even realising. That's why conversations about Coronavirus with really little children, in a way that they can understand, could really help both them and you.
A team from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Oxford, in partnership with Blackpool Better Start, have created some top tips for parents and carers to help children make more sense of this difficult time:
a. make a feelings jar
b. make up a game in which you mime an emotion and see if other people can guess correctly
c. think about different animals as a way to describe changes in mood (e.g. when I am cross I feel like a raging bull, or a stomping elephant, but when I am scared I feel like a tiny shy mouse that wants to hide)
d. draw around a member of the family on a piece of old wallpaper/newspaper and mark on the ways our bodies change with each feeling (e.g. heart races, hands get sweaty, tummy feels like butterflies)
e. with older children, brainstorm as many different words as possible to describe emotions and display them as a graffiti wall picture
Although the future looks very uncertain and many things are beyond our control, it is important to remember that we can take very practical steps to support our children cope and protect their psychological health, whatever the future may hold.