COVID-19 Home Isolation – Child Mental Well-being
The stress of the COVID-19 pandemic coupled with the continuous changing developments can have a big impact on a child’s mental health. UK Government recommendations on supporting children and young people during this time are listed below:
- Listen and acknowledge any changes in behaviours. As children and young people may respond to stress in different ways, it is important to 1. listen to them, 2. acknowledge their concerns, and 3. give them any extra time or attention they may need.
- Talk to them about the situation using words and explanations that they can understand. Provide honest answers from reliable sources of information to any questions they have [link to Kids COVID-19 Factsheet here]. Explain what is being done to keep them and their loved ones safe, and include any actions they can take to help (such as washing their hands regularly).
Remember, sometimes you may not be able to provide answers to all the questions children ask or to allay all their concerns, so focus on listening actively and acknowledging their feelings to help them feel supported. Try to answer their questions and reassure them in an age appropriate manner.
- Be mindful of your own reactions- remember that children and young people often take their emotional cues from the important adults in their lives.
- If you and your children need to be in a different location to normal (for example, staying at home in different locations or hospitalisation) make sure you still have regular and frequent contact via the phone or other social media outlet.
- Limit exposure to media and discuss what they have seen and heard. Repeated exposure to the news can be distressing; also note that a complete news blackout is not helpful either as they are likely to find out from other sources, some of which may not be completely reliable.
- Create new routines as needed with the ongoing changes. Routine gives children an increased feeling of safety in the context of uncertainty; especially if they are not at school.
Dedicate specific times of the day (or week) that include time for learning, playing and relaxing. Ideally, children should be active for around 60 minutes a day, though this can be when spending long periods of time indoors. Some ideas for home activity may be found through Change4Life here.
If children have to stay home from school, it is a good idea to use the local learning support platform; click here to find out more from the Department of Education.
- Make sure to try and keep to existing bedtime routines- sleep is crucial for mental and physical health
- Be prudent when dishing out treats, such as sweets or chocolate, to compensate for being housebound; this is not good for child health, especially considering their physical activity is likely to be restricted.
How children and young people of different ages may react
All children and young people are different, but there are some common ways in which different age groups may react to a situation like the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Whilst common reactions to distress are likely to fade over time, they could return if the children see or hear reminders of what happened.
Infants to 2-year olds
Infants may become more easily distressed; they may cry more than usual or want to be held and cuddled more.
3 to 6-year olds
Preschool and kindergarten children may adopt behaviours they have outgrown – for example, toileting accidents, bed-wetting, or being frightened about being separated from their parents or caregivers; they may also have tantrums or difficulty sleeping.
7 to 10-year olds
Older children may feel sad, angry, afraid or have trouble concentrating; they may focus on details of the situation and want to talk about it all the time, or not want to talk about it at all.
Preteens and teenagers
Some teenagers respond to worrying situations by acting-out in extreme ways, including reckless driving and alcohol or drug use. Some may become afraid to leave the home and cut back on how much time they connect with their friends. Heightened emotions may lead to increased arguing and even fighting with siblings, parents, caregivers or other adults. Concerns about how the school closures and exam cancellations cause added stress.
Children or young people with long term physical health issues (e.g. those who need continuous use of a breathing machine or are confined to a wheelchair or bed) may have stronger reactions to the COVID-19 outbreak. They may manifest more intense distress, worry or anger than children without these issues. It is vital to support them by listening to their concerns, providing open and honest explanations about the situation, and giving them information about what is being done to keep them safe.
Children and young people who are accessing mental health services
Children and young people with an existing mental health problem may find the current uncertainty around the COVID-19 outbreak particularly difficult. The increased stress may lead to a change in their behaviours and mental health needs. If you are concerned about how to access support if they need to stay at home, please contact their mental health care provider.
Children and young people with learning disabilities
Children and young people with learning disabilities can feel a loss of control in times of uncertainty such as the COVID-19 outbreak. They may need extra reassurance, more or better adapted explanations about the event, as well as more comfort and other positive physical contact from loved ones. They are likely to feel anxious about changes, such as going to new places or the possibility of isolation for a long period. It can be helpful to explain any upcoming changes to routine and circumstances before they happen and help them to plan and come up with solutions, such as finding a hobby or doing exercises to relax and cope with anxiety. For further guidance see here.
A good way to help them is by supporting their decisions, representing choices visually through written words, pictures, symbol systems or objects. It is important to acknowledge their feelings seriously and refrain from judging their emotions.