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Supporting your child’s mental health during coronavirus

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. 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.

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 is a family walk or an exercise video in front of the TV it is important that they exercise. If you have a garden, let them play outside.

These activity cards from Play Scotland have lots of ideas for helping children learn to relax, express themselves and explore their emotions, practise listening and problem solving and use their imaginations.

More information about supporting your older children can be found here.

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.

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.

Tips to help your children stop worrying

Tip #1: Draw your worry

Together, you and your child could try drawing their worry – be as expressive as you like – a big old scribble is a good start! The worry is now stuck to the page and you can scrunch it up and put it in the bin.

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Tip #2: In your happy place

Ask your child to think of their favourite place and describe it to you. What can they see, hear, touch, smell and taste? How do they feel?

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Tip #3: Deep breaths

Taking deep breaths sounds like an obvious way to relax – but it works! Get your child to hold out their hand and then trace round each finger with the first finger of the other hand, breathing in and out deeply as they trace up and down the fingers and thumb.

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Tip #4: Get musical

Listening to their favourite music is a great way for kids to relax and feeling better. If they play an instrument, encourage them to practise – this will also take their mind off things.

This PDF from the NHS has more exercises your kids can try.

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

Speak to your GP if you are worried about your child’s mental health. The NHS Inform website also has help available.

It might be the case that members of your household may 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/Health Visitor and remember to talk to family and friends too.

In this short film, psychologist Professor Cathy Richards shares her top tips on why it is important to try to keep some structure in the day. School-aged children, whose day-today lives are a bit different at the moment may be finding things particularly hard, this film also includes advice for helping to support your children if they’re feeling anxious.

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.