Looking after children and young people during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak
How a child or young person reacts to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak may depend on their age, past experiences or understanding of what's happening.
Some children and young people, including those with additional needs and disabilities, may find it difficult to deal with things or struggle with adapting to changes in their routine.
For instance, some may worry more than normal, which can show up in physical symptoms like stomach ache. Others may behave differently, getting more angry, distant or acting up in other ways.
Some children may have had a strong reaction early on whereas some may have coped initially but shown signs of difficulty later on.
Some younger children may have enjoyed more time with the family and struggle with restrictions easing, while others may have managed any changes well.
If you are a parent or carer, it's important you know how to look after the mental health of those you care for during difficult times. Here are some tips that might help.
1. Listen to what your child says and how they're feeling
Children and young people may respond to stress in different ways. They may be more emotional (upset, anxious or angry) or behave differently (clingy, withdrawn or wet the bed). They may also have physical symptoms, like stomach ache, and problems sleeping.
Children and young people can feel less anxious if they are able to express themselves in a safe and supportive environment.
Stay calm – kids often take their emotional cues from the adults in their lives, so how you respond is important.
Listen to and acknowledge their concerns, speak kindly to them and answer any questions they have honestly. Give them extra love and attention if they need it.
2. Be clear about what's happening
Children and young people want to feel that those who care for them can keep them safe.
Explain what will help to keep them and those they love safe, such as washing their hands regularly. Do this by talking openly and giving honest answers to questions they have.
If you cannot answer all their questions or stop them from worrying, focus on listening to their feelings. This will help them feel supported.
3. Limit news and conversation about COVID-19
Children and young people are likely to have been exposed to lots of news about COVID-19 in the media and online. This can become worrying or overwhelming, just like it can for adults.
Blocking all news rarely helps, as children are likely to find things out from their friends or online. And turning off the TV or closing websites when children come into the room may increase their interest, and their imagination, too much.
Stay informed and up to date but think about setting a limit on how much COVID-19 news and talk you and your family have.
Discuss what's going on with them and ask what they have heard, to check understanding and provide reassurance where necessary.
4. Keep close and regular contact
Staying connected and close to loved ones is important at every stage of life, so try to keep your children close to you or those that care for them.
If you are not living with your children or have to go away, for work or to hospital, stay in touch regularly by phone or video calls.
If the children are part of a family that is separated, it's important for them to be supported in their contact with parents and other family members – even when the adults do not always get on. Make sure they have lots of opportunities to spend quality time with family members and carers.
Lots of change or uncertainty can be confusing for children and young people. When talking with them, use simple terms they understand so it's clear why things are happening.
5. Create new routines
It may have been harder to be consistent since the COVID-19 outbreak, but sticking to a routine can be really helpful and make children and young people feel safer.
Think about how to develop a routine that covers the basics but is interesting and fun too. Make sure that every day or week includes time for learning, playing and relaxing. You could also arrange play dates with friends.
Spending time outside in nature is another great way to take care of mental wellbeing. It can be as simple as going for a weekend walk or doing the gardening together.
6. Get active
Children and young people should be active for 60 minutes a day, so it's important to try to build activity into kids' daily routine.
There are lots of different ways to get active so try a few different things to see what they enjoy most. It might be swimming, dancing or running. This is also a good way to boost time outdoors, you could try taking a football to the park.
There are lots more ideas for getting active on the Change4Life website.
7. Eat healthily and avoid too many treats
We know it can be tempting to give sweets or chocolate to cheer your children up. But too many treats are not good for their health, especially if they're not as active as they normally are.
Change4Life has loads of healthier snack ideas – and making them together is also a great way to keep the kids busy.
8. Children and young people need good sleep
Sleep is so important for mental and physical health for everyone.
Children and young people need good-quality sleep, so it's important to keep to existing bedtime routines.
9. Look after your own mental health and get support
Remember to take care of your own mental health and wellbeing. You will give the best support to those you love if you can deal with things calmly and confidently.
You can be more supportive if you are better prepared to deal with any issues. There are things you can do, and support is available on looking after your mental health and wellbeing during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Further support and advice
If you're worried about how your child is coping, there's plenty of advice, help and support out there.
Our mental health and self-care tips for young people page has videos offering advice on how they can look after their own mental wellbeing, as well as lots of organisations and resources for further help and support.
Childline offers a confidential telephone counselling service, so your child can speak to someone anonymously. They can:
- call Childline on 0800 1111 anytime, free of charge
- have an online chat with a counsellor
- check out the Childline message boards
Shout provides free, confidential support with trained crisis volunteers via text for anyone, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Text SHOUT to 85258 in the UK, or visit Crisis Text Line for more information.
The Mix offers a free, confidential telephone helpline and online service for young people. They can:
- call The Mix 0808 808 4994 free of charge, from 11am to 11pm every day
- access the The Mix online community
- email The Mix