The past few months have been extremely tough on parent/carers and their children. Lots of parent/carers have voiced concerns about the impact of Covid-19 on their child’s social and emotional wellbeing.
We have put together some Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) aimed at helping parent/carers to support their child’s social and emotional wellbeing. They have been developed by a number of professionals across Trafford Council and Clinical Commissioning Group, including Health Visitors, Early Help professionals, Clinical and Educational Psychologists and specialist early years teachers.
Opportunities for peer social interaction and social skill development
Lockdown may have been a difficult time for young children who are used to freely interacting and playing in a very hands-on way with their peers. Social interactions are an important part of young children’s development, including spending time with peers their own age. It is understandable that you may be worried about your child’s social development as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. You are likely one of many parent/carers with such concerns.
This pandemic is unique in that your child will not be alone in their experiences – there are around four million other children under five in the UK who will have had the same social restrictions imposed on them during lockdown. Although we can’t say for certain how the pandemic will affect young children’s social development, research tells us that most young children are actually very resilient and capable of adapting to changes in their environment as long as they have at least one supportive adult in their life. Young children in particular also need their parent/carers much more than they need their friends at this stage in their development. They learn a lot about how to interact with others in the context of their relationships with parent/carers, siblings and even pets. In other words they will have been learning a lot about how to interact with others and pursue friendships when restrictions ease despite not being around their peers much during lockdown.
It is completely normal for young children to have found the sudden social restrictions on their life difficult, notably not being able to see or engage in close physical play with their friends. The first step in supporting them is to acknowledge this and give them the message that it’s okay to be feeling this way. You could also say that you are missing seeing your friends too. Explain in child-friendly language why it’s so important that we do what the government is asking us to do at the moment in order to try and keep people safe and well, but give the message that it won’t be forever. After you have acknowledged how your child is feeling and empathised with them you could try and engage in some talk about what would make them feel better. For example would they like to make their friend a card to say that they miss them or for you to help them write a list of things they’d like to do with their friend when social restrictions ease.
Every child is different and lockdown will have affected them in different ways. For some young children their way of coping with the changes to their routines and environment may be to withdraw into themselves and only interact with people they know well and trust, such as you. Although you may be understandably worried about their interactions with others, it should be celebrated that you have created a loving and stable environment where your child feels safe and secure in their relationship with you.
Often time, patience and nurture are what children need in order to come to terms with significant changes to their routines and environment. This applies equally to coming out of lockdown as well as going into lockdown, meaning that some young children will need time to get used to things getting back to normal, including being able to interact with others again. Most young children are very adaptable and, despite needing a bit of time to get used to things, will become accustomed to interacting with people outside of the family again. There are some simple ways you can support this:
- Give your child time to feel comfortable by encouraging others to simply play near them to start with. Try to avoid making your child interact with them straight away if they do not seem comfortable doing so.
- Stay close to your child in social situations to begin with and then gradually move away for short periods of time as your child builds up their confidence.
- Help label your child’s feelings (even if they’re still very young) and say it’s okay to feel this way e.g. ‘Sometimes it’s a bit scary meeting people/children we don’t know and that’s okay. Let’s have a look who’s here and I’ll tell you their names’.
- Praise ‘brave behaviour’ e.g. ‘I liked how you smiled at them and that made them smile back!’.
- Try to use other words than ‘shy’ such as ‘warms up’ e.g. ‘Once Nadia feels comfortable she warms up and then she’ll be happy to play’.
However, if you feel that your child hasn’t responded to these suggestions or that their withdrawal and reluctance to interact with others is becoming more of a problem, then you could consider seeking some advice from your Health Visitor and/or speaking to your child’s childminder or nursery/school to see if they share the same concerns.
Talk to your child about what the words ‘social distancing’ mean using child-friendly language e.g. not getting too close to people we don’t live with for now so as to not spread germs. Tell them that doing this will help keep people safe and well and that everyone is doing it, not just them. Research has shown that keeping the message simple and positive is the best way of talking to young children about Covid-19. Also emphasising the things they are allowed to do is important e.g. we can still wave and say hello.
Young children are likely to need more time to process new rules and expectations and so will probably ask more questions than older children and perhaps forget to follow new rules despite reminders at first. This is all developmentally appropriate. Research has also found that young children respond well to learning opportunities which utilise all their senses, known as ‘multisensory’ learning. This means that instead of just explaining social distancing in words to young children it is best to explain it in using hands on and visual approaches as well. There are lots of ideas online including animated videos (such as the Playmobil video) and storybooks (such as ‘While We Can’t Hug’ and ‘Time to Come in, Bear’).
Relationships with important people
The first step in supporting them is to acknowledge this and give them the message that it’s okay to be feeling this way. You could also say that you are missing seeing them too and are looking forward to the time when you can all give each other a hug and kiss. Explain in child-friendly language why it’s so important that we do what the government is asking us to do at the moment in order to try and keep people safe and well, but give the message that it won’t be forever.
After you have acknowledged how your child is feeling and empathised with them you could try and engage in some talk about what would make them feel better. For example would they like to send them a picture through the post. You could also try to use virtual platforms to keep your child connected with family members. There are lots of websites which you can search for online which give ideas for interactive games to play on video calls. Young children are unlikely to be able to hold a conversation and maintain their concentration so playing games can be more engaging for them. Try to avoid video calls with lots of people at the same time as your child may find this overwhelming, try one family member to start with and see how it goes. However, don’t worry if your child doesn’t show any interest in video calls or becomes upset. Don’t try to force them to speak or interact if they’re reluctant, sometimes just allowing them to watch the other person whilst you speak is enough for them. Follow your child’s lead and if they’re just not into it then give it a miss.
If they are able to see family members in person in line with social distancing guidelines then think of other ways they could connect with them instead of hugging and kissing, for example making up a fun dance move that both of them could do as a greeting or playing a socially distanced game together (there are lots of ideas online).
Lockdown may have been a difficult time for your child because young children in particular are used to interacting physically with family members and friends. Children at this age often engage in rough and tumble play and physical affection with family members as a way of building relationships. It is therefore understandable that you may be worried about whether this will impact their future relationships with extended family and friends.
Although we can’t say for certain how the pandemic will affect young children’s relationships with extended family and friends, research tells us that most young children are actually very resilient and capable of adapting to changes to usual routines as long as they have at least one supportive adult in their life. Therefore it is likely that the majority of young children will return to showing physical affection as and when restrictions ease. It will be important to give your child time to adjust though when they begin to see family members again. When physical contact is allowed try not to push your child to show physical affection to others if they do not seem comfortable doing so. Follow your child’s lead and encourage extended family and friends to do the same. Keep in mind that every child is different and some young children will choose not to show physical affection simply due to their personal preferences and nothing to do with Covid-19.
Lockdown may have been a difficult time for babies and young children due to the sudden changes to their routines, lack of stimulation and opportunities for social interaction. You as their parent/carer will most likely have been their main form of entertainment and social interaction during lockdown. It is understandable that during this time some babies and young children may have become used to spending lots of time with just one or two caregivers. Seeking proximity to parent/carers is also a response to feeling threatened or afraid. Even very young children can often pick up on the emotional atmosphere created by adults and inadvertent messages being given to them about the world. Therefore some young children may have become clingier to parent/carers due to feeling unsafe.
It is important to keep in mind, however, that it is actually developmentally appropriate for babies and young children to go through phases of needing to be physically close to their parent/carers, regardless of Covid-19. During these phases babies and young children seek physical contact in order to strengthen their relationship with their parent/carer(s). Physical contact is therefore critical to healthy child development. The first of these ‘clingy’ stages often happens when young children are between 8 and 18 months old, but can last until they are around four years old. They may become upset by new faces or familiar faces they have not seen for a while, cry when left with someone other than you and/or be reluctant to play on their own when you move away from them. These are developmentally appropriate reactions and are actually a positive sign of your child’s development – they now have an increased awareness of the world around them and know that they are dependent on you in order to feel safe. Every child is different though, therefore the timing and intensity of these stages will vary significantly between children.
Whether you feel that your child’s proximity-seeking is developmentally appropriate or linked with lockdown, research has shown that most babies and young children are very adaptable and will become accustomed to interacting with a range of adults given time. It is a compliment that their relationship with you is so strong. However, there are some simple ways you can support your child’s independence:
- Keep in mind that your experience of lockdown will be different from that of your baby /young child. For parents, lockdown has really changed daily routines and shaped maternity/ paternity leave. For your baby / young child, parents continue to be their world and they will still look to you to help them make sense of their world and to know that their feelings are understood and that they can be helped with new experiences. This means that parents need to continue to work at looking after themselves and recognising where they need support, so that they can be sensitive and responsive to their young children.
- Maintain routines – babies and young children need consistent routines as predictability helps them feel safe and secure. When they feel a sense of security they are more likely to feel at ease being away from you for short periods of time.
- Check in with your own wellbeing – babies and young children are very perceptive to adults’ emotions, which in turn affects their own emotional wellbeing. If you have been feeling stressed, low or anxious during lockdown then your child may have picked up on this. Try to engage in some self-care activities, such as talking to someone you trust, so that when you are around your child you are able to create a positive emotional atmosphere.
- Gradually build up your child’s confidence – start with practising very short periods of separation around the house, for example telling your baby or child that you are going into another room but will return shortly (making sure the room they are left in is child-safe). This will help them understand that separation is only temporary and build trust in you telling them that you will come back. Then move onto being around other adults – hang around for the first few times, gradually moving away from your child when they are engaged in something. Keep the first time you separate fully from them short and then slowly increase this time over the coming days/weeks.
- Give them a familiar toy or comforter – young children often take comfort from familiar objects so let them have one when you leave the room or separate from them.
- Say goodbye properly and in a positive way – try not to become upset in front of your child if you are struggling with the separation. Create a consistent ‘exit ritual’, for example smiling, telling them you’ll come back soon and waving goodbye. Over time this will help your child understand what is happening when you separate from them. Don’t just slope away or disappear unpredictably as this will likely make your child more anxious. Be sure to look after yourself as well, for example seeking support if you’re feeling overly upset or distressed after separation.
However, if you feel that your child hasn’t responded to these suggestions or that their separation anxiety is becoming more of a problem, then you could consider seeking some advice from your Health Visitor and/or speaking to your child’s childminder or nursery/school to see if they share the same concerns.
Emotional wellbeing and coping skills
The concept of germs can be quite scary to young children and given the current pandemic it is understandable that some children may have become fearful of them. Your child may have become overly-cautious, reluctant to leave the house or excessively worried that they will spread germs. Firstly, it’s important that you acknowledge your child’s anxiety and give them the message that it’s okay to feel worried, we all feel this way at times. Secondly, reassure them that you’re there to help them and that they can talk to you whenever they are feeling worried. Some of the following strategies may also help:
- Keep calm – young children learn by example and are likely to copy your response to events beyond their experience, such as Covid-19. They are often very intuitive and pick up on adults’ emotions so try to offer information in a calm way that’s developmentally appropriate.
- Help your child view germs in a less threatening way – talk to your child about why germs are important; they play an important part in keeping us healthy via our immune system. You could explain this in a child-friendly way, for example using a ‘ninja fighter’ analogy or something similar. Tell your child that we all have little ‘ninja fighters’ inside us whose job it is to fight off germs. But if we never come into contact with germs our fighters never get any exercise or practice. Therefore the germs teach our fighters how to get smart and strong so they can fight the germs off next time. It’s good for us to try to keep as healthy as possible and avoid spreading germs by washing our hands regularly, but we mustn’t try to avoid germs all together.
- Help your child to recognise the things that they can control – during times of high stress and anxiety research has shown that emphasising the things that are in a child’s control, rather than what they can’t control, helps promote emotional resilience. Talking to your child about good hygiene practices will help them see that they have some control over the spread of germs e.g. hand washing and coughing/sneezing into their elbow.
- Limit news exposure – be open with your child and try not to hide things from them, but on the other hand don’t over-expose them to information, particularly when this is aimed at adults i.e. watching the news. There are lots of fun, animated, child-friendly videos online about germs, some specifically related to Covid-19, which are likely to be more appropriate than wider media coverage.
However, if you feel that your child hasn’t responded to these suggestions or that their fear of germs is becoming more of a problem and significantly affecting their everyday experiences then you could consider seeking some advice from your Health Visitor or GP.
There are a number of young children who sadly will have experienced bereavement during the Covid-19 pandemic. It is likely to be a very distressing and upsetting time for their families, amplified by the restrictions in place which prohibit usual funeral arrangements taking place. It may also be incredibly painful for families who weren’t able to be with their loved ones when they died and this may feel difficult to accept. When experiencing grief and loss yourself it may be hard to know how best to support your child, especially if you do not have your usual support systems around you i.e. extended family and friends.
Children have different responses to death depending on their age and experiences. When children are infants bereavement is simply experienced as ‘absence’ i.e. the loved one no longer being around. Between 3 – 5 years old children begin to understand that death has something to do with not being alive, however children at this age often struggle to understand its permanency. For example they may ask when the loved one will come back or ask to see the loved one even when they have been told that they have died. Children of this age are also very egocentric, meaning that they may think that it was something they did that made their loved one die. Therefore it’s important that you make sure they know it’s not their fault and that nothing they did made it happen. Young children often ask lots of questions when facing a new experience, such as the death of a loved one, which is their way of trying to understand and process what has happened. Try to answer as honestly and simply as possible and if you’re not sure of the answer then don’t be afraid to say ‘I’m not sure’. Young children may also become intensely interested in death and their talk may seem quite morbid. They may therefore respond in ways that could be upsetting or shocking to other grieving adults. This is developmentally appropriate and shouldn’t be criticised or reprimanded.
There are a number of ways that you can support young children who have experienced bereavement:
- We need to look after ourselves as parents and to keep in mind that our experience of bereavement will be different from that of our baby /young child. For our little ones, we as parents continue to be their world and they will still look to us to help them make sense of their world. They need to know that their feelings are understood and that they can be helped with new experiences. Your little one may be responding to changes in their environment, and may be bringing normal developmental shifts too to the situation. Try to think about what has changed for your baby. Let them know you understand things feel different but that you want to know about it and are there to help them.
- Acknowledge and label your child’s feelings – Grief is a normal, essential response to death. It can be short lived or last a long time. As parent/carers we often want to protect our children from negative feelings and so can fall into the trap of trying to ‘gloss over’ difficult emotions, particularly when grief and loss are concerned. Although this may be our instinct, research has shown that children often respond best to approaches which seek to recognise and validate their emotions i.e. giving them the message that it’s okay to feel upset/sad/worried/angry and letting them feel this way whilst with you. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Everyone will have a different way of experiencing and coping with bereavement.
- Offer lots of opportunities to talk – Some young children will not need lots of opportunities to talk about what happened or seem overly affected by the loss of a loved one. Whereas other children may want to talk a lot about what has happened. Make sure that you follow your child’s lead and if they want to talk then find times of the day where you can have some protected time together. Reassure your child that they can talk to you whenever they need to.
- Say goodbye in another way - If your child expresses upset at not being able to say goodbye to their loved one then you could think about other ways of saying goodbye, for example lighting a candle, letting off a balloon, drawing them a picture, planting a flower etc. This may help to bring some closure to your child’s relationship with this loved one.
- Use child-friendly approaches to talking about death - There are a number of storybooks appropriate for young children, which you can find online or in the resources sections of the organisations listed below. You may also be able to find them at your local library.
Supporting your child as well as grieving yourself can be very stressful. Make sure that you find time to look after your own emotional wellbeing and talk about your own feelings with someone you can trust. There are also national and local organisations that can provide additional support.
- Child Bereavement UK: Helpline 0800 028 8840, childbereavementuk.org (opens in new window)
- Winston’s Wish: Family line 08088 020 021, winstonswish.org.uk (opens in new window)
- Greater Manchester Bereavement Service: Helpline 0161 983 0902, greater-manchester-bereavement-service.org.uk (opens in new window)
- Nestac (emotional support for those from BAME communities across Greater Manchester bereaved during Covid-19 available in Somali, Kurdish, Swahili, Urdu, Arabic and French): Phone 0170 686 8993, nestac.org.uk (opens in new window)
Lockdown has been a challenging time for many families with increased pressure and stressors due to the significant changes to routines and roles at home and work. Many families have spent a number of weeks in close proximity to each other, making it difficult for family members to have time alone and use their normal coping strategies for managing conflict i.e. time away from each other. The Covid-19 pandemic has redefined how we live our lives and interact with one another, which can test even the strongest bonds. It is therefore understandable that many families have experienced more frequent arguments and family members taking out their frustrations on each other. Unfortunately for some families this may have led to parental separation and/or breakdowns in family relationships.
Young children in particular can be very sensitive to changes in family dynamics and the emotional atmosphere within the home. They may have witnessed arguing or conflicts between family members – either directly or when parents don’t realise they are watching/listening. Children in the early years can often struggle to understand the reason behind family breakdowns and may even blame themselves or think that it happened because of something they did. It’s therefore important to tell them that it is not their fault, there is nothing they could have done to prevent it and that they are still loved by all family members. Each child will react differently to parental separation/family breakdowns but it is not uncommon for young children to react by crying, becoming more clingy/possessive, being irritable/argumentative, behaving younger than they are and needing more attention than usual. They may also become fearful of further changes to family relationships and may worry about being abandoned, particularly if the separation has resulted in them no longer seeing certain family members.
There are a number of ways that you can support young children who have experienced a family separation or breakdown:
- It is really important to look after yourselves as much as you can during very difficult family experiences. Your experience of family separations will be different from that of your baby /young child. For your baby / young child, parents continue to be their world and they will still look to you to help them make sense of their world and to know that their feelings are understood and that they can be helped with new experiences. Your little one may be responding to changes in their environment, and may be bringing normal developmental shifts too. Try to think about what has changed for your baby and wonder what it is they might need from you. Let them know you understand things feel different and that you want to know about it and are there to help them.
- Explain changes to your child as simply as possible and answer questions honestly, including if you’re not sure of the answer. You could also try to think through any questions you think your child may ask beforehand and prepare some answers. If possible try to ensure that all family members are delivering consistent messages.
- Encourage your child to express how they feel; don’t push them to talk if they don’t want to, but be ready to listen if they want to talk about it another time. You could use child-friendly resources, particularly for children who do not have much language, to aid such conversations. For example there are lots of storybooks which can be read together exploring the theme of separation and family breakdown in a sensitive way. There are also stories which include different types of families to help reinforce that every family is unique and special. You can search for these storybooks online or find them at your local library.
- Make sure that you talk about your own frustrations or any negative feelings about family members away from your child. Ask family members to also do this.
- If it’s appropriate try to ensure that your child is still able to spend some time one on one with family members who have moved out in order to maintain relationships.
- Try to keep routines, activities and boundaries/rules consistent, especially if your child is spending time between different houses.
- Remember that your child may need time to come to terms with their new family set up and what this means for them. They may feel angry, upset or rejected and express this ways which adults find challenging. Try to be patient and supportive if they are struggling.
When families work together to support children through all the changes of a separation or family breakdown they usually manage better. However, there may be times when you need extra help and you may wish to seek advice from some of the following organisations:
Changes in behaviour and skill regression
A change in your child’s behaviour during lockdown is likely to be a reaction to the current restrictions being placed on them and be their way of expressing their frustrations and disappointment. Lockdown is likely to have been difficult for young children in particular who thrive on having lots of opportunities for social interaction, play, physical activity and changes of scenery. It is completely understandable that the only way some children will be able to cope with such changes is to act out and take their frustrations out on the ones they love. Children’s behaviour is also closely linked with their emotional wellbeing and often children will act out when feeling stressed or anxious. We may not think it but it’s likely that young children will have picked up on the emotional messages being conveyed to them by the adults around them, which may have included worry and stress due to the pandemic.
It’s likely that your child will act out less given time, patience and nurture from trusted adults to help them come to terms with how they are feeling. These are some ideas for how you could support them in the meantime:
- Keeping in mind how babies and young children are experiencing the changes around them is a good place to start. Remember that developmental shifts are continuing to happen. Young children’s needs are changing and we can lose sight of these when we have other things on our mind. Take some time to think about what you have noticed about your little one over the last few months and check out what to expect of a child who is a few months older.
- Help create a sense of safety for your child by making sure there are consistent, predictable routines throughout the day. If possible try to keep these similar to their pre-lockdown routines, but if this isn’t possible then create new routines but stick to them.
- Find opportunities for ‘special time’ with your child where you can engage in doing something fun together. Play has been shown to be a significant protective factor for children’s emotional wellbeing. There are some great resources and ideas from Play Scotland (playscotland.org), BBC’s Tiny Happy People (www.bbc.co.uk/tiny-happy-people) and Hungry Little Minds (www.hungrylittleminds.campaign.gov.uk).
- Always see your child’s behaviour as a form communication – try to think ‘what is my child trying to tell me by acting in this way?’. Often they are trying to communicate that they are worried, scared, upset or angry about something.
- Try to name your child’s feelings out loud, for example ‘It looks like you’re a bit cross with me because I’ve asked you to tidy away and you want to keep playing. But it’s time for dinner now, so which toys shall we tidy away first?’. Acknowledging your child’s feelings before setting boundaries helps your child to feel understood.
However, if you feel that your child hasn’t responded to these suggestions or that their behaviour is becoming more extreme and difficult to manage, then you could consider seeking some advice from your Health Visitor and/or speaking to your child’s childminder or nursery/school to see if they share the same concerns.
A very common reaction to stress in young children is a regression in skills – meaning moving backwards in their development. This could take the form of losing language, potty training skills, failing to sleep through the night or in their own beds, wanting adults to do everything for them or becoming overly clingy to caregivers, getting frustrated more easily or changing their eating habits. Sometimes babies and toddlers just need their parents to think a while with them about how things are and to make space for some more growing. Just taking time to notice is usually helpful for all the family.
Research has shown that for the majority of young children this doesn’t last forever and is likely to be a short term reaction to a specific time in their lives, in this instance it represents your child under pandemic conditions. It’s therefore important to be as supportive and nurturing as possible during this time and not to shame your child or try to cajole or bribe them into ‘acting their age’, which could lead to increased feelings of insecurity and further regression. Keep in mind that your child is not regressing on purpose but instead trying to cope with a difficult experience.
Instead try to acknowledge how your child may be feeling and the reason why i.e. that their world has changed significantly without warning and that change can be hard. If they want to talk about it, reassure them that it’s not their fault and it sometimes happens when there are big changes in a child’s life. If you feel they are up for it then you could think of some things that would make them feel better and plan when to do them. Follow your child’s lead by providing lots of opportunities for them to connect with you and talk about how they are feeling, but don’t force them to talk about it if they don’t want to. Often being patient and giving children time and space results in them returning to a more developmentally appropriate level of functioning.
Even prior to the Covid-19 pandemic many parent/carers were concerned about the amount of screen time that their children were accessing. It is often a topic of conversation between parent/carers, as well as in the media, and there can be debate as to what is an acceptable amount of screen time for young children. It is therefore understandable that many parent/carers may be worried about the unintended consequences of lockdown; namely increased screen time. In a recent survey 82% of parents indicated that their children’s screen time had increased during lockdown, therefore you are not alone. As usual, balance is a good guide and you can make sure your child also has face to face time with a parent who is interested in what they are doing, for little bursts of time throughout your day together.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) suggests that children under the age of two should not be exposed to any screen time and that children aged 2-5 should be limited to an hour of screen time each day. However, there has been debate around such time limits as it is argued that the research into the impact of screen time on children is still not clear cut. Given the unusually high levels of stress that families have been under during lockdown, as well as limited opportunities for entertainment outside of the home, it is understandable that many parent/carers have reported increased screen time as a way of coping with the restrictions imposed. Try not to chastise yourself too much – lockdown has been an extremely trying time and you have likely been having to balance setting boundaries with maintaining harmony.
Now that some of the restrictions are starting to ease you may be looking to reduce the amount of screen time your child accesses. These are some ideas for how you could do this, but keep in mind that each family is unique and so some of these suggestions may not suit your own family’s needs.
- Develop an ‘activity menu’ with your child that lists some exciting non-screen activities, for example physical activities, messy play, craft, gardening, outdoor picnic etc. When your child is feeling bored or at a loose end, offer them something off the menu instead of screen time. You could also rotate their toys so that they do not become bored of them, for example putting a few toys in a box out of sight and swapping the boxes every few weeks.
- Set specific times of the day or week when your child can have screen time rather than it being accessible throughout the day. For example half an hour in the morning and half an hour at the end of the day. This helps your child know when to expect you to say yes to screen time and over time should reduce their requests for screen time at other times of the day. This is also helpful for you as it means you know when to plan tasks or chores when you know your child will be occupied. Don’t be surprised if it takes a few days for your child to get used to the new schedule, they are likely to test this in the first couple of days but if you stick to the plan and calmly explain it to them they’ll likely get used to this new routine.
- Lead by example – it’s really important to ‘walk the talk’ when it comes to screen time. It isn’t fair for your child if they see you engaging in screen time for large portions of the day and this sends mixed messages. In addition research has shown that reducing screen time has benefits for adults’ emotional wellbeing.
- Engage with your child during screen time whenever possible – research has shown that ‘co-viewing’, i.e. taking an interest in what your child is watching and discussing it together, has more benefits than your child watching alone. For example you could link what they are watching to their real world experiences (‘Oh look they’re going to the park, we went to the park yesterday didn’t we?’). Co-viewing has been shown to boost early literacy skills and support children’s empathy skills.
Parental anxieties with regards to transition to school
During the Covid-19 pandemic many young children will have been through a significant period of change. For a lot of them this will have involved no longer being able to attend their childminder or nursery following the sudden closures of childcare and early education settings. Having now had a number of weeks at home with immediate family members it is understandable that many parent/carers have concerns as to how best to support their child now that many settings have reopened. Furthermore many young children will be transitioning to school, with some having not attended an early education setting for a number of months.
All children will react differently to changes in routine, therefore some children may appear eager to return to their setting or go to school, whereas others may appear anxious or voice worries. However, there are lots of ways in which parent/carers can prepare their child for a transition back to a setting or starting school.
- Talk to your child about the upcoming transition in a positive way. If they are returning to a setting then remind them who their key worker is by using their name a lot in conversation. Your setting may also provide you with a photograph of the key worker so you can use this as a prompt to talk to your child. If your child is starting school then find out the names of the Reception class staff and look on the school website to see if there are staff profiles/photographs. You may also need to talk about any new measures or rules that have been introduced due to Covid-19, such as social distancing measures. Keep explanations short and simple to avoid overloading your child with information.
- Recognise your child’s feelings and name them for them (‘When we talk about school you start to shy away a bit and pick your fingers. I wonder if you’re a bit worried about starting school?’). Your child may also express how they are feeling through their behaviour so always think about what emotions might underlie certain behaviours i.e. your child might be acting out more if they are feeling worried. Or they might indicate they just need to be close with their parents in a way which was comforting when they were younger, just while they adjust to having to be so grown up by going to school.
- Communicate with your child’s setting or new school. Many settings and schools have now set up virtual ways of maintaining contact due to restrictions on face to face meetings. Schools have also started to offer virtual tours and videos of Reception staff introducing themselves. It may be helpful to let your child’s key worker or class teacher know a little about your child’s lockdown experiences, particularly if it has been a difficult time for them.
- Ask your child’s setting or school if they are allowed to bring in a familiar and comforting object from home that can be easily cleaned on arrival. This is often called a ‘transitional object’ and can help to alleviate anxiety and provide comfort to your child during the transition. If they have book bags it could be a keyring attached to the bag with a family picture in it, or a photo that’s kept inside the bag to look at when they’re feeling worried or upset.
- If your child is moving to a new setting or starting school, it’s important that they are able to say goodbye in an appropriate way to their key person and adults from their current setting. For example their setting may send them a video message or a postcard wishing them good luck at school. Equally your child may want to send them a message or picture to say goodbye.
- Try to encourage independence skills if your child is starting school and practise these at home. For example using the toilet independently, getting dressed and undressed, feeding themselves, and getting their shoes and coats on.
- If there will be a significant change to your child’s daily routines when starting school, establish a new routine a few days before the transition. For example, thinking about a set bed time, what time they will need to get up and be ready to leave the house for in the morning, how long will it take to get to school etc. It’s important that children arrive to school on time as it allows them to begin the day with their friends and helps them to settle in with the other children.
- If your child still has a dummy and will be starting school in September then now is the time for the dummy fairy to come and take it away. Having a dummy can significantly affect a child’s speech production development. Try and encourage a different comforter such as a teddy or blanket that can replace the dummy.
- Don’t forget about supporting your own emotional wellbeing. This is also a big change for you being apart from your child. You may have spent a lot of time together recently due to lockdown so it may also take you some time to get used to this new routine (and the house being so quiet!). Plan what you’ll do for the first couple of days and make sure you talk to someone you trust if you are struggling. Reaching out to other parent/carers in a similar position may also help.
There are also lots of ideas for activities and information about starting school on BBC Bitesize (opens in new window).
Access to support
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic many parent/carers have been juggling working from home with family life, caring for children and possibly home-schooling older children. This has understandably placed great stress on families and many parent/carers have expressed that they are finding this extremely difficult, especially as this has now been the case for many months.
Some families will have possibly already found a number of coping strategies to manage this situation, however if you, like many other parent/carers, are still struggling you may find some of the following tips helpful.
- Don’t put pressure on yourself to deliver an all singing all dancing early years curriculum throughout the day. Every family is different and has different challenges to face during Covid-19. Instead try to schedule in short times in the day, for example 10-15 minutes, when you can exclusively focus on your child, play and talk to them without getting distracted or trying to multi-task. This will ensure that your child feels like they are getting some one on one time with you and means that you can focus on something else at other times without feeling guilty and having to say ‘I can’t right now’ all the time.
- Keep in mind that having some time alone is actually good for your child’s development and independence. Having short periods of playing by themselves allows children to develop independent problem solving skills and confidence in being away from you. However, make sure that the room that they are playing alone in is child safe.
- Make sure that your employer is aware of your family situation and speak to them about the possibility of flexible working. Read up on your employer’s family-friendly and home working policies so that you’re aware of your rights.
- Set up a designated workspace, even if this is in the same room as your children, as a visual cue to help your children understand when you are working and when you are not. You will likely need to be flexible if you have young children who need high levels of supervision. When your children need you then take time off and return to the task later. It’s important that you give yourself this permission to take care of your family and not to feel guilty for doing so.
The Covid-19 pandemic has placed great amounts of strain on parent/carers and families. Many parent/carers have been at home for long periods with babies, toddlers and children and/or teenagers. They may be trying to balance needing to work and provide childcare or home-schooling. Some parent/carers may be shielding, vulnerable or caring for others who are vulnerable as well as possibly having experienced bereavement or family breakdowns. Whatever your experience has been during Covid-19 it has been recognised across the world that this period will be challenging and tough on parent/carers emotional wellbeing and resilience. Therefore if you are struggling with your own mental health at the moment you are not alone. Many other parent/carers are feeling the same as you.
It’s important that you recognise that it’s not a sign of weakness to seek support for mental health, it is actually a sign of strength and a commitment to your family that you want to be in the best position to be able to support them. There are lots of ways you can access support if you are feeling low in mood, depressed or anxious.
- It is really important to think about how our feelings as parents might get in the way of us being available for our young children. Try to make sure you can have space and time to support yourself, whilst asking a co parent or extended family for help with some of the care taking duties. This means that you might be more able to spend some time where you can really focus on your little one’s world and have some strong relationship building time which helps your child to develop their emotional well-being.
- Consider reaching out to trusted family members and friends. Simply talking to someone else about how you are feeling has been shown to be a great help when feeling low or anxious. Or if you don’t feel comfortable doing this then you could join an online parent’s group or forum and post anonymously.
- Talk to your GP about the support available within the NHS and your local area for mental health, particularly for parent/carers.
- Talk to your Health Visitor (HV). They’re there to help you and your family and if you’re struggling for any reason they can offer you extra support and advice, especially if you are feeling anxious, depressed or worried.
- Look at online advice and resources for managing your emotional wellbeing and simple changes you can make to your daily routines. Mind is a mental health charity which offers lots of useful information and advice to people with mental health difficulties. You can visit their website (opens in new window) to access support.
- If you're in crisis and need to talk to someone right now, there are many helplines staffed by trained people ready to listen. They will let you talk through your feelings and experiences without judging you or telling you what to do. Many listening services let you talk for as long as you need. The Samaritans is one such helpline which is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You can call 116 123 (free from any phone) or email email@example.com. They also have a ‘Self Help’ app which you can download for free which helps you keep track of how you’re feeling and get recommendations for things you can do to help yourself cope and feel better.
Despite many things changing during the Covid-19 pandemic one thing that hasn’t changed is that women are still having babies. However, new parents are unfortunately having to come to terms with a very different experience of having a baby and the complexities that lockdown and social distancing restrictions bring. Many new parents will have been cut off from family members and support systems during lockdown. They may also have had reduced access to health resources, such as home visits from midwives/health visitors and access to face to face support groups, for example breastfeeding clinics. Parental leave will likely be a very different experience for these parents, with baby groups now only available online and many other groups cancelled, for example library rhymetime sessions. Families may also have had changes to their finances and income, possibly resulting in changes to planned parental leave or returning to work earlier than planned. Many new parents will have also had older siblings around the house a lot more than usual, which may have caused stress due to trying to meet the needs of both a new baby and older children without the support of extended family and friends.
It is understandable that many new parents will feel a sense of loss at being ‘robbed’ of what they thought the experience of being a new parent would be like or compared to their previous experiences. Many new parents may also be feeling increasingly isolated, even when restrictions begin to ease due to lost opportunities for bonding with other new parents early on in their child’s life. This is known to be a significant risk factor for parental mental health. It is really important for you and for your baby that you are able to recognise when things are beginning to feel overwhelming. Bringing a new baby home is a very tiring and demanding time and parents of new babies have lots of feelings to juggle. Talking about this with a co-parent or people outside the house, and trying to be honest about the struggles, will help you to think through how to find to the right support. It will also help you to be able to focus better on meeting your baby’s needs, whilst you are looking after your own.
However there are a number of places where you can access support and reach out if you are struggling:
- Talk to your Health Visitor (HV). They’re there to help you, your family or your new baby and if you’re struggling for any reason they can offer you extra support and advice, especially if you are feeling anxious, depressed or worried. You will be able to find contact details for your local authority Health Visiting Team online.
- Family Information Service (FIS) – provides free, impartial, confidential information and advice to mums, dads, carers, young people and professionals on a range of subjects. You will be able to find contact details for your local Family Information Service online.
- Gingerbread groups – is a national charity which provides expert advice and practical support for single parents in England and Wales. Gingerbread groups, organised by a Gingerbread Co-ordinator, offer opportunities for single parents to support each other. During Covid-19 they are offering Whatsapp and Facebook groups as a way for single parents to stay in touch with each other. There is also a Gingerbread forum. Visit gingerbread.org.uk (opens in new window) for more information.
- Perinatal Mental Health Partnership UK - has a Facebook page offering general support and advice for parents about staying well and managing mental health issues during pregnancy and after having a baby. Visit https://www.facebook.com/PerinatalMHPartnershipUK/ (opens in new window).
- PANDAS – provides mental health support for pregnant and new parents. They offer a free helpline on 0808 1961 776 offering signposting and a listening ear.
- Postnatal Depression (PND) and Me – is a twitter chat (@PNDandme) hosted every Wednesday 8-9pm and on Facebook. This offers peer support from other parents who have experienced difficulties with their emotional wellbeing during pregnancy and after having a baby.
Mush – is an app for mums which you can use to find other mum friends nearby, know what’s going on and communicate with other mums through the app. Mush is also providing virtual daily meet ups with other mums starting at 11am every morning using Zoom video calling software. You can access them for free from the homepage of the app.