Schools have been closed for several weeks now – and the reality of coronavirus lockdown is hitting home for many children and young people.
Those who were initially excited at the prospect of no lessons, teachers or classrooms are now missing seeing their friends every day, with some experiencing isolation and loneliness for the first time.
Some of our members have shared their thoughts on things parents can do that may help their children and teenagers cope during these unprecedented times.
Susie Pinchin, a counsellor at a girls’ school in London, recommends finding what works for you and your family. It won’t be the same for everyone.
“Change can be unsettling for anyone. Young people have told me how surreal it seems and how they feel out of sync and lost.
She adds: “This is a situation we have not got the tools or equipment to deal with as we have never dealt with it before.”
Help them feel heard and understood
Feeling heard and understood is a core need. It’s also important to show empathy.
Our Children, Young People and Families Lead Jo Holmes says: “Talking and identifying how people in the family are feeling is important, as is acknowledging what the feeling is, for example, fear.
“Try listening to your child and rather than just trying to make it better, which of course is what we do as parents.
“Listen to the worries and acknowledge that it’s scary and allow the child or young person to explore that feeling in the best way they can,” adds Jo.
Our member Jane Darougar, a college counsellor based in east London, adds: “Communication with teenagers can be tricky at the best of times, but when you are stressed, bewildered and without clear answers for the questions that might arise, it’s tempting to avoid talking about what it happening.”
Check information sources – and limit exposure
For teenagers who are active on social media, supporting them to understand where their information is coming from can be vital.
Jane adds: “Don’t forget that your teenager may not think to come to you for clarification and may be getting their information from their friends and social media, information from dubious sources combined with worrying on their own is a bad combination.
“Try to talk to your teenager, be honest about the limitations of your knowledge, we are all uncertain about the future, it could be very useful for you to shed doubt about those who claim to know what’s going to happen.
“Encourage them to check the sources of their information and to limit exposure, no one needs to frighten themselves with constant alerts,” she adds.
Think about what they can and can’t control
Susie says she does this a lot with her young clients.
“I have acknowledged their feelings allowing them the opportunity to speak of their fears and confusion. We have then looked at separating things into those they can control and those they can not. This cuts down their long list of worries obviously and so things start to look a bit more manageable.”
Draw on their strengths
Jo says its good to talk to children about their strengths.
She adds: “Draw upon skill sets and resilience built in the past and how your child coped or managed their emotions and how they are able to self-regulate, such as ‘when I feel sad I can’.”
This includes being able to calm yourself down when you get upset, to handle frustration without an outburst, to adjust to changes in expectation and to resist highly emotional reactions to something that upsets you.
Highlight the good – as well as the bad
Jane recommends being honest about the difficulties of the situation, but also talk about the positives of the current situation as well as the negatives.
She says: “It’s useful to highlight the good along with the bad, how many people are looking out for their neighbours, contributing to their communities, many teens are surprisingly creative and altruistic, encouraging this in them now may encourage them to be great people in the future.”
“When stuck at home a major problem will be power struggles and the lack of autonomy,” says Jane.
“If you can encourage choice making, even in small steps like choosing what and when to eat, cooking for themselves, planning their day, that might help to ease tensions.”
Try to keep some structure
Susie and Jo both recommend trying to keep some structure to the day.
Jo adds: “Try to separate the day into different sections, helping out in the house, doing a bit of schoolwork, having down-time connecting with friends and having some fresh air and exercise. Children are good with timetables, drawing up schedules together to offer structure provides a focus, as long as it isn’t too regimented.”
This may well be the most time that parents and children have spent in the house together, and so it could be the opportunity for doing some activities together.
“Playing games together as a family can be a fun distraction,” says Jo. “But not everyone has the patience or resources to do this.”
Learning to cope with boredom is a good thing
“Bored children can be bored - it won't hurt them and if they are forced to think of something to do for themselves (that does not involve a screen) their imaginations can also start to bloom,” says Susie.
“Books can be discovered, music can be danced to. And then of course, the wonderful world wide web can transport anyone to virtually walk among the animals in zoos, visit exotic places and provide information and entertainment beyond imagination,” she adds.
It’s ok to have a bad day
“If anyone - a child, young person or adult has a day or so where they have just lost their mojo, feel a bit low and just want to sit around eating popcorn and watching a few films, will it really do any harm in the long run?” says Susie.
Professional support available
But if you’re very worried about how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting your child or teenager’s mental health and wellbeing, there is support available for them to access.
Check what support your child’s school or college is offering. Some school counsellors are still offering sessions through online platforms.
Susie says she is running a ‘virtual counselling room’ for her students. “They can drop in or continue their counselling sessions with me via phone or online and it’s working well,” she adds.
To find a counsellor or psychotherapist who works with children and young people visit our Therapist Directory.
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