Mellownest is run by Claire and Nneka, some North Leeds Mumbler mums who are also mental health professionals and educational psychologists. In their guest blog, they discuss how we can support and manage our children’s anxiety over Coronavirus.
We are currently experiencing one of the greatest global challenges of our time.
The truth is, we don’t know what’s going to happen and that’s scary.
A little bit of neuroscience might help us understand why this situation feels so difficult.
Human brains are wired to focus on the bad; it’s called the negativity bias. Most of the time this is helpful but in situations like this, it can lead to feelings of overwhelm, fear and panic – just as we’ve seen over the past couple of weeks.
Normally our brains counter these feelings by rationalising and imposing control on our environment so, in essence, the anxious feeling encourages us to take steps to keep ourselves safe. (For example, if you feel anxious about driving somewhere new, planning your route, checking the parking and allowing extra time might help you to feel better).
For many of us, the current situation feels so overwhelming that our poor panicked brains are left scrambling for what to do.
And if we’re panicking then how are our children going to feel?
One of the most important things we can do for our children is be a container for their anxiety. That means being able to hear their worries, hold space for them and help them to move on.
Here are three simple steps to help you do just that.
1) Manage your own anxious feelings first.
Take a breath.
Remind yourself of the facts – for most people this illness will not be deadly or severe, especially for children which is reassuring for us as parents.
Step away from the social media posts of empty shelves and cancelled events and focus on your personal situation. Obsessing about things you can’t control simply makes you feel more unhappy and has no impact on the situation.
Control what you can – if you are taking all the steps possible to keep your family and other people safe then you are doing exactly what is needed.
If you notice yourself spiralling into negative thoughts, breathe and remind yourself that it is more useful to be present with your child now than it is to ruminate on any given number of unknown future worries.
2) Be honest but reassuring
Dr Laura Markham, a clinical psychologist, recommends checking in with what your child already understands about the situation before communicating the following points.
The grown-ups have got this.
Children and grown-ups who have healthy immune systems are able to fight this virus off, so it’ll just be like having a cold or the flu.
Smart people are figuring out a solution so we can all get back to normal.
Help them to understand what’s going to be happening including any changes like parents working from home or schools closing.
Explain what that will look like for them. Some children might like to see a routine written up and put on the wall; others might be happier to go with the flow.
Do what suits you and your child.
Don’t let them watch the news. It’s stressful enough for adults.
Remember that even though they may appear not to be listening to the TV or to your conversations, they’ll be taking in more than you realise.
3) Give them a sense of control.
Some children will accept what you tell them and carry on business as usual, while others may seem more anxious and have more questions.
Validate their feelings. Let them know it’s okay to feel scared or sad.
If they keep asking the same questions, it’s okay to simply say that you’ve answered as best as you can and remind them of what they can do.
Our job is to stay home, stay safe and wash our hands. That’s it.
There are loads of great online resources for activities to do at home and it might help your child to feel more positive if you have a look through some of these and perhaps make a list of some of the ones they like best.
This is also an opportunity to try new things like becoming pen-pals with friends or arranging Lego competitions over facetime.
We don’t know how long this will last for, but we can hope and trust that we’ll all be back to normality in the not too distant future. This is a difficult time for all of us but it’s also an amazing opportunity to look at how we can face huge challenges together and build resilience at the same time. Not to mention the countless opportunities for connecting with our children, both in helping them deal with their feelings and in spending quality time together.
It won’t be easy, but we can make this a time that our children remember for years to come – for all the right reasons.
If you’re looking for more support we have a private facebook group that we’ll be using to help families manage their children’s emotional wellbeing over the coming weeks and we’d love to see you in there.