Helping children and young people cope with stress
The government has published a guidance document for parents and carers in response to the Corona outbreak. This document has lots of useful information in it and links to helpful organisations. You will find a link to the full document below, however, here is a summary of their recommendations for supporting children with stress.
Children respond to stress in different ways. Signs may be emotional (for example, they may be upset, distressed, anxious, angry or agitated), behavioural (for example, they may become more clingy or more withdrawn, they may wet the bed), or physical (for example, they may experience stomach aches). Look out for any changes in their behaviour.
Listen and acknowledge:
Children and young people may feel less anxious if they are able to express and communicate their feelings in a safe and supportive environment. Try to listen to them, acknowledge their concerns, and answer their questions at an age appropriate level. It's OK to say that you don't have all the answers but reassure them that the government and scientists are working hard to find out.
Provide clear information:
Children want to feel that their parents and caregivers can keep them safe. The best way to achieve this is by talking openly about what is happening and providing honest, age appropriate, answers to any questions they have. Explain what is being done to keep them and their loved ones safe, including any actions they can take to help, such as washing their hands regularly.
Be aware of your own reactions:
Remember that children often take their emotional cues from the important adults in their lives, so how you respond to the situation is very important. It is important to manage your own emotions and remain calm, listen to and acknowledge children and young people’s concerns, speak kindly to them, and answer any questions they have honestly.
Try to make time to talk each day. This can be difficult if you're still out at work or having to work from home and juggling home learning too. But it really is the most important thing you can do for your children - make time to talk about how they're feeling. If you're separated from your children because they live in a different house or you're working away, try to make a time to connect with them regularly using technology to help facilitate this.
Create a new routine:
Life is changing for all of us for a while. Routine gives children an increased feeling of safety, so think about how to develop a new routine – especially if they are not at school:
- make a plan for the day or week that includes time for learning, playing and relaxing
- children and young people need to ideally be active for 60 minutes a day, which can be more difficult when spending longer periods of time indoors. Plan time outside if you can do so safely or see Change4Life for some ideas for indoor games and activities
- don’t forget that sleep is really important for mental and physical health so try to keep to existing bedtime routines
- it may be tempting to give them treats, such as sweets or chocolate, to compensate for being housebound, but this is not good for their health, especially as they will not be able to be to run around or be as active as they normally do – see Change4Life for ideas for healthy treats
Limit exposure to media and talk about what they have seen or heard:
Children, like adults, may become more distressed if they see repeated coverage of the outbreak in the media. A complete news blackout is also rarely helpful as they are likely to find out from other sources, such as online or through friends. Try to avoid turning the television off or closing web pages when children or young people come into the room. This can pique their interest to find out what is going on – and their imagination can take over. Instead, consider limiting the amount of exposure you and your family get to troubling media coverage.
How we support children's emotional understanding at Nansloe
It might be helpful to understand the vocabulary we use when talking to children about their emotional well-being and mental health. The children are familiar with these concepts because they're referred to and taught regularly in class and in assemblies.
We have taught the children that we have chemicals in our bodies that affect the way we feel. They also understand that our actions can directly influence the production of positive brain chemicals and the reduction of negative brain chemicals. These are the images we use when discussing our brain chemicals and these are the 6 we have chosen to focus on in school.
Our brain's response to stress
We have also taught children that when we get overwhelmed with anxious thoughts, stress or rage, our thinking brain becomes difficult to access. Our body and brain are flooded with cortisol and we lose the ability to think rationally and problem solve. We taught them the hand brain model to help them to understand this process better.