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If you have concerns about the physical health of you or someone you love, please look at the NHS information about COVID-19 virus here: NHS 111 Online – About coronavirus (COVID-19)

If you are overwhelmed and struggling with your mental health, please consider calling one of these helplines to talk to someone.

     https://papyrus-uk.org/hopelineuk/

At the time of writing this article, the majority of British schools are still open and functioning. The activities described below are intended to fit around a school day, or for some days of school if a child is self-isolating. At the time when British schools are closed, we will be publishing something that is more suitable for children staying at home for long periods of time.

When I think back to my own childhood, I try to recall what the big “national anxiety” was. For my generation, it was undeniably terrorism. I had just started secondary school when 9/11 happened, and was living in the London orbit when the 7/7 bombings occurred. Like most children, most of the time I continued with my life without too much concern. School still went ahead, there were exams to be taken and parties to go to, but I do still remember there was anxiety that needed to be processed. It is likely that for most children in 2020, they will be experiencing something similar about COVID-19. These activities are designed to help you, as a parent or caregiver, to help your child process their thoughts and feelings without getting into negative thought cycles, all whilst maintaining the directions for self-isolation. It’s a tall order, and we hope this helps!

Worry book/worry box.

This is a stressful time for everyone, and there is a lot of worry going around. The trouble with this is children often have the uncanny ability to ask us questions at the most inopportune times. As adults, sometimes we have the presence of mind to take a pause and really answer/inquire into our child’s question (right there, in the supermarket/bathroom/car/public toilet) but the chances of us doing that when we ourselves are stressed and worried are slimmer. So a worry book/worry box can be helpful! This is a place where your child can drop in their worries at any time, they need to have access to it in the home, and then at the end of the week (or perhaps the end of the day at the moment), you take some time to address the worries they might have. This is also very helpful for children who struggle with more obsessive worries. If you explain to the child that once they have placed the worry inside the box or book they don’t have to think about it until the time when you talk about it, it can help them reduce the frequency of their worries. It can also help if you give them the chance to decorate the worry book or worry box whilst you explain its purpose!

Mindfulness meditation.

Meditation always sounds like it should be for adults, but it is very helpful for children too. If you are already thinking “There’s no way I can get my child to sit still for two minutes!” – Don’t worry. This type of meditation/mindfulness is not necessarily about physical stillness but rather mental relaxation. It is about giving your child time and space to relax in their mind, which if they are experiencing worry and anxiety, will be a very noisy place. For a child, mindfulness can be the quiet that comes over them when they are being read a bedtime story, or the sense of chill they might get from watching ASMR videos. Even gaming can be good for mindfulness! Here are some links to some mindfulness games I recommend:

  • Alto’s adventure! – A chill snowboarding adventure where you chase llamas through gorgeous landscapes.
  • Echogenesis – An amazing immersive world experience for those who love to explore.
  • Drifting afternoon – Bounce along on bubbles through surreal and beautiful scenery.

Try and see if you can work out what a mindfulness activity might be for your child and then see if you can encourage them to do it for ten minutes every day. Some of the most popular activities in our experience are bedtime stories, ASMR (particularly for teenagers), mindfulness gaming, colouring, and baking!

Exercise and chores.

Your children might already be feeling the impact of less exercise already with community groups closing their doors. Exercise is very important for your child’s mental wellbeing as it gives them a serotonin boost and gives them a way to expend excess adrenaline which can cause anxiety. So how do we find ways to exercise with children during self-isolation? You might have to get imaginative with it. Try exercise videos online that you can do together, or a good old fashioned run around in the garden or a kick about with the football. If your child isn’t showing symptoms and neither are you and you can get access to outdoor areas such as parks or woods without having physical contact with others, then take your child out for a daily walk (unless advised otherwise by the government). If you find yourself stuck inside, you might consider using chores as exercise! Everyone knows nothing gets your heart pumping like a good bathroom scrub, and it’s also important for children to have some structure in their day. A period of time doing something “boring” will only make the periods when they can do what they want more delicious. It’s also a good way for you to give rewards for a good job done, and incentivize your children to be more active!

Jar of Joy.

One of the hardest things about self-isolation for children can be boredom. After four days inside, even the Xbox can become boring! As we know, a bored child can be prone to anxious thoughts, bad behaviour, and low mood. Sometimes, however, a child just doesn’t know what to do with themselves and even your suggestions of their favourite activities are deemed “soooo boring!” The great thing about the jar of joy is that it brings an element of surprise and variation into the day. At the start of isolation, get your child to write down different activities that they enjoy (inside and outside, but maybe limit them to your own garden or yard). They can be as time-consuming as watching a movie, or as little as playing with a pet. Then, put all the activities in the jar. When your child cries boredom and you need to distract them, pull out the jar!

Maintain connection with others.

Your child will likely feel the impact of social isolation quite quickly, so it’s important that you help them maintain a connection with the outside world. This might be allowing that time to play online games where they can connect with other friends, or organising with other caregivers to arrange skype hangouts. Remember, your child is growing up in a world where they are used to communicating electronically, but they will feel the impact of not communicating face-to-face quickly. Their instinct might be to keep things online or in instant messages, but try and make space for face-to-face calls in their lives. Maybe they can face-call their grandparents or friends or relatives in other countries? You could arrange for them to have “dinner” with a friend from school over skype or video conferencing. Also, try and help them maintain connection with your community by suggesting activities that support others. Maybe they can make cards for people who live in assisted living and aren’t able to have visitors at the moment. Maybe they can make phone calls to more vulnerable people in their community to “check” on them. When your child feels connected to the outside world and that they are doing something to “help” this will limit their feelings of helplessness or being out of control.

Finally, remember that you need to be aware of your own mental wellbeing during this time. Please check out our other blog here: 5 tips for good mental health in self-isolation about how you can protect your mental wellbeing whilst self-isolating.

Remember: if you or someone you love is struggling, you are NOT alone.

 

About the Author: Emma Hinds

Emma is a writer living and working in Manchester. She is a mental health advocate and has been blogging about mental health for the last ten years. Emma has a history of eating disorders and is currently living with a diagnosis of OCD and chronic depression. She has been working specifically with young people struggling with their mental health for the last four years and is now supporting the Lily Jo Project’s On Track follow up schools programs. You can see Emma’s work and follow her mental health blog here. You can also follow her on socials here: twitter@EmmaLouisePH and instagram@elphreads