We asked Clinical Psychologist, Dr Emma Hepburn, to share her top tips on how best to support young children during lockdown. She also recommends some fantastic resources to help explain coronavirus to little ones in an age-appropriate way. We hope this lends a helping hand during this challenging time.
Younger children show their emotions through their behaviours. During times of stress you may notice changes in their behaviour- they may become upset more easily or display more challenging behaviour. Behaviours they have outgrown may return such as bed wetting or toilet accidents, tantrums or having difficulty separating. It’s important to be able to understand these behaviours, not blame or be critical of yourself or your child, and try to response to them in a positive and calm way.
Increase their sense of security
Spending time with you children and building routines, including calming bedtime routines, can all help increase their sense of security. A calm environment and responding calmly to them also helps them feel safe. Maintain social connection when possible with people they are close to. You may be have to be creative in order to do this, for example, you could get granny to sing songs or read a story via video call.
How you speak to children about emotions helps them understand their own emotions. Validating their emotion by acknowledging them can help children feel heard and supported and help them regulate and learn how to respond to their emotions. Validating statements can include;
“It looks like you are sad because we have to go inside now, it’s okay to be upset but we can think together of something else fun to do instead”.
Children love being outside and it helps them develop and thrive. It is also good for both parent’s and children’s wellbeing. Getting outside can also diffuse high emotions that are building up and gives them much needed exercise that tires them out.
Praise your children when you notice even small positive behaviours. Praise isn’t just for achievements- also praise them for trying hard, managing when things go wrong or managing difficult emotions. Being specific about what you are praising them for can help promote this behaviour in the future. “I’m really proud that you kept on trying and managed to put your jacket on’
Play, play, play
Play is crucial for a child’s development and for helping them feel safe. Playing with your child helps allow them to express themselves and builds your connection. However you can also promote independent play by setting up some activities beforehand that will hopefully keep their interest (perhaps even for long enough for you to have a cup of tea!).
If you’re stuck to know what to do there is some great ideas here:
Manage their emotions by managing your emotions!
Our brains are designed to pick up on emotions so when children’s emotions rise, our emotions often rise in tandem and it can be hard to stay calm or not shout back. Find ways to help yourself calm down so you can respond helpfully and calmly to their emotions or outbursts. This might be slow breathing or taking a few minutes before you respond. Responding with high emotions or shouting normally only raises emotions more and prolongs the situation! Try to make sure you are feeling calm before you respond to your children’s emotions.
Look after yourself
Being kind and compassionate to yourself and looking after your own needs is essential for you as a parent. This is also a stressful time for you, so ensure you look after your own wellbeing. It’s important to try to build some time into the day to meet your own needs. Talking through things you are finding difficult can also help reduce stress. Looking after yourself is not a luxury, it’s a necessity to enable you to do the job of parenting.
Help children understand what’s happening at an age appropriate level
When they don’t know the facts, children can fill the in gaps with worries and imaginary information. Keep them informed at in an age appropriate way. This can help address concerns and also helps them feel able to discuss worries and ask questions when they need to. Books are a great way to open up these discussions and help think about emotions. There are some fantastic free resources to help you do this with younger children.
Free Resources to help children understand Corona Virus at an age appropriate level:
- The big thing - corona virus seen through the eyes of a five year old
- Everybody worries (good to help discuss and address worries)
- Covibook (for 2-7 year olds)
- My hero is you (for around age 4-8)
You can find more of Dr Emma Hepburn’s advice @thepsychologymum on Instagram.