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Supporting your child’s mental health

This is an uncertain time for everyone. Kids are often more aware of what’s going on than we think. They might not understand the news, but that doesn’t mean they can’t sense that something is up. You might not be sure how best to talk to them about what’s going on, but no matter their age it’s important we pay attention to their mental health.

How to emotionally support your baby

All babies have their own personalities and they will communicate what they need and feel through their behaviour. All babies need support from their caring adults to feel ok while they experience changes in their emotional world.

As individuals babies will pick up on stress and communicate this in their own ways so it is important to look after your mental health first. If your baby is crying more than usual, sleeping or acting differently or is looking for more comfort than they usually do they could be picking up on your anxiety.

It is important to respond to your baby as usual. Even though your day-to-day life is different at the moment, try and stick to their usual pattern for sleeping and feeding. This might be tricky, but the more normal life feels, the less disturbed they will be. Listen to your baby and offer comfort with soothing words and hugs when they need it. Our section on wellbeing for wee ones has lots of advice on engaging with your baby so they feel connected to you, safe and cared for.

Most importantly, you need to look after your own wellbeing. This will help you to manage your worries and will help you to interact with your baby in a calm and reassuring way.

How to emotionally support your toddler

Routines are as important for toddlers as they are for babies. Keep to the same bed times and try to keep mealtimes regular. This should help cut down on snacking too! Eating healthily while at home is really important. It can be tricky staying active indoors but we have lots of tips and games to help keep your little ones moving. Make time to have a chat with them, a few words and a wee hug can make a big difference.

If your wee one goes to nursery you could let them keep in touch with their pals. Letting your child see photos of what their friends are up to or video calling their friends will help stop them missing them too much. You can even share tips with other parents on keeping the little ones entertained.

Supporting your older children

Your older children might be finding it hard. Especially school-aged children whose day-to-day lives may still be a bit different at the moment. Don’t be afraid to speak to them about what is going on. Older children will have a good idea already. Make sure they know that they can talk to you. If they’re struggling to express themselves, these sentence starters could help.

Help your children to keep in contact with their friends. Everyone is in the same boat and having other people to talk to is just as important for your kids as it is for you.

Also try and keep them active. Whether it's a family walk or an exercise video in front of the TV, it's important that they exercise. If you have a garden, let them play outside.

Our page on supporting older children and teens during coronavirus has more advice. You may also find the following resources useful:

Why playing is important

It might not seem like it when they’re being noisy and making a mess, but playing is a really important thing for your child’s mental wellbeing. Playing is a crucial part of how children’s minds develop and how they make sense of the confusing world around them. Giving them the space to play and to let their imaginations run wild will help them cope during this time and keep them emotionally and physically healthy. Our page on helping your child through play has more information.

Helping children deal with negative thoughts

The way we think affects the way we feel, so negative thoughts can make us feel bad. No one wants to think negative thoughts. The trouble is, they tend to pop into our heads of their own accord! And this goes for children as well as adults. Here are some exercises you can try with your kids to help them relax and deal with negative thoughts. You could try using this ‘feelings thermometer’ with your child to help them express how they’re feeling.

Tips to help your children stop worrying

If you're concerned about your children’s mental health

Speak to your GP if you're worried about your child’s mental health. The NHS Inform website also has help available. The NSPCC website has helpful advice on spotting signs of depression or anxiety in children. The Young Minds website also has advice and information on helping your children deal with anxiety.

It might be the case that members of your household need to self-isolate. This can be really hard but remember there is lots of support out there. Make use of NHS Inform, talk to professionals including your GP and midwife or health visitor and remember to talk to family and friends too.

Tips for supporting your child

In this short film, psychologist Professor Cathy Richards shares her top tips for helping to support your children if they’re feeling anxious.

The online Solihull parenting course contains information that can help you understand and support your child. You can access the course for free using the access code ‘tartan’.

If a family member is in hospital

If someone in your family or anyone special to your child has to go into hospital, this can be scary for them and you may be worried about how to talk to them about it. This guide from ICU Steps is great for helping children understand what happens when someone goes into intensive care, and has practical things you can do together to make the situation less scary.

Free support booklet for your child

This booklet is a great free tool you can use with your child to help them understand and manage how they’re feeling during this time. It talks about the common worries children and young people have at the moment, as well as practical things they can do that might help. You can download the booklet here.