Supporting our children in these challenging times

Dr Susan Chan

COVID caused our lives to change, and the future still feels uncertain. Change can be a significant cause of chaos not only for us, but also for our children. Here are some steps to help you support your child.

Recognise their concerns
Everyone gets confused at times. We know that children tend to worry about different things at different ages. Their anxiety is influenced by what’s going on in the world around them. Every child is different, but you are the expert at recognising when your child is fearful. Do they want to stay closer to you than usual? Do they ask lots of questions and seek reassurance? Do they get tearful or cross and grumpy? Do they talk about ‘feeling ill’?

Promote open communication
Encourage children to express their thoughts and feelings openly. Avoid significant conversations near bedtime, which is a time for calming down and going to sleep. But if this happens, encourage them to make a note (maybe in a ‘worry box’) so you can both talk about it the next day. Then, move on to a calming and distracting activity to help them settle for the night.

Encourage strong social connections
Build positive relationships with peers, family members and mentors that encourage teamwork, empathy and co-operation. This is so important to provide emotional support and resilience.

Learn to listen
Spend time listening to your child, asking questions and being interested in how things are from their perspective. Be accepting of their worry, anger and sadness. Let them know that their thoughts and feelings are understandable – and normal.

Establish healthy habits
Let’s get the basics in place… a balanced diet, exercise and sufficient sleep are fundamental for well-being – and fun!

Teach mindful compassion and de-stress management techniques
Children respond positively to such techniques. You can have fun when actively taking part with them.

Place apprehensiveness into perspective
A worry is a thought, not necessarily a fact. Listen to your child and try to understand precisely what they are uneasy about. What is the worst thing they think might happen? How likely is it to happen and what would it mean if it did? Would it help to explore alternative ways of looking at things, which might help them draw less anxiety-provoking conclusions?

External pressures
Constant exposure to news and social media, and changes to routines can influence our children. Keep an eye on what your child is reading, watching and listening to. Be aware if they hear news reports which they might find upsetting. Try to keep to a routine, with activities across the day (e.g. schoolwork, exercise, relaxing, keeping in touch with friends, sleep). Emphasise the importance of being kind and looking after themselves.

Acknowledge their strengths
Children become happier if they believe they can cope with difficulties. You can help by showing your child that you are confident they can manage. Please enable them to problem-solve where there are solutions to be found. It also helps them learn to address worries that they can’t do much about (e.g. by distracting themselves with fun and absorbing activities).

Show personal compassion
These times are stressful for everyone and you need to look after yourself to best look after your children. Think about how you can apply the above steps to yourself. But also think about how you can get support from those around you. By supporting one another, we are more robust and can get through this together.

In conclusion, children can be supported to positively address their physical, emotional and social needs. You can empower children to thrive in today’s complex world and to become happy and safe.

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