Supporting your childrens’ mental health
Children’s experiences will vary tremendously some will have enjoyed lockdown but most will have found it difficult and be traumatised to some degree.
Some children may have had to deal with:
- Parent made redundant or furloughed
- Parent works in the NHS
- Family member is seriously ill
- Not enough food to eat at home
- Caring for younger siblings at home
Spot the issues
The age of the child will have a significant impact on how they display anxiety and other issues.
An older child suffering from anxiety.
- Lack confidence
- Be tired
- Have angry outbursts
- Have a lot of negative thoughts
- Start avoiding everyday activities
A younger child may show:
- Be irritable, angry, tearful or clingy – they might get angry or irritable quickly, and be out of control during outbursts
- Be tired – due to difficulty sleeping, waking in the night, bad dreams or wetting the bed
- Have difficulty eating – they might seem to lose their appetite, or eat very slowly
- Be constantly worrying or having negative thoughts – they may find it hard to concentrate as a result
- Be tense and fidgety – they might find it hard to sit still or ask to use the toilet more often than usual
- Have physical symptoms – they might complain of tummy aches and feeling unwell
Some children may have experienced specific events that they found extremely frightening and dangerous, such as a family member being hospitalised suddenly. This sort of experience can trigger a traumatic stress reaction.
A child suffering from traumatic stress might:
- Be unusually tired – from finding it hard to sleep or having bad dreams and nightmares
- Become fearful – they might be clingy and anxious about being separated from their parents or teacher
- Seem to regress in their behaviour – they might start bed-wetting and thumb-sucking again; or become irritable and disobedient
- Seem preoccupied – they might be unable to concentrate or be preoccupied with thoughts and memories of the event, which they may or may not talk about
- Have physical symptoms – such as headaches and tummy aches
Following a bereavement, a child might show any of the following responses:
- Alternating between play and sadness – they may appear to be sad and withdrawn one moment, then start playing the next
- Tiredness – they may seem exhausted or listless, and find it difficult to concentrate
- Mood swings – they may suddenly become withdrawn, anxious or despondent
- Regression and loss of skills – their academic progress may seem to deteriorate, they may develop a speech impairment or stutter, they may revert to “baby talk” or thumb-sucking
- Anger and frustration – they may display aggressive behaviour
- Lack of response, or denial – some newly bereaved children might not present any behaviour associated with grieving, or deny their grief altogether
What can you do to help?
Try to keep things as normal as possible encourage them to play and do their normal activities.
Encourage children to talk:
- Create opportunities to talk within the day. Don’t force it: create opportunities where these conversations can occur naturally
- Create safe spaces to talk, such as quiet spaces, many children find it easier to talk when sitting in the passenger seat in the car.
- Label feelings and link them to body cues and behaviour – use phrases such as ‘I noticed …’, ‘I wonder if …’ and ‘Could this be …’ Sometimes children don’t know how they’re feeling, so by suggesting an emotion and linking it to a behaviour you’re helping them make sense of their emotional responses and giving them the opportunity to confirm or correct you
- Allow for comfortable silences, show open body language and listen actively
- Normalise what they’re feeling, and reassure them it’s ok to feel this way. Use examples from your own life to illustrate times when you have felt a certain emotion, how it felt and why
- Acknowledge the child’s views/worries/pains and listen to what they say, e.g. “that sounds really difficult”, “is there anything I can do?”
- Reassure the child that they are safe
- Try to answer questions as honestly as possible, in an age-appropriate way. It’s ok to say that you don’t have all the answers
- Ask questions rather than give advice, to help the child generate their own solutions or coping mechanisms
- Use empathy, rather than sympathy
- Let them know you’re grateful to them for opening up, e.g. “thank you for sharing that with me”
The Blob Tree can help
Print out and ask your child:
- Which Blob do you feel like today?
- Why do you feel like that?
- Which Blob would you like to feel like?
- What could we do to make you feel a little bit more like that blob?
A really helpful routine is to regularly ask children
- What have you done today?
- What is a positive thing that has happened
- Anything to get off your chest?
Another is to get them to score themselves out of 10 of how they are feeling 10 being amazing and 1 being absolutely awful. Then ask how they could move up one point.
The UK’s medical model is about sickness not health and wellbeing. So instead of focussing on helping people to be brilliant we focus on making them less ill. Positive psychology is instead about helping people to be their best selves. To be brilliant.
You can help yourself and your children by using some of the methods. I will link to resources at the end.
Most people have a tendency to dwell on negative thoughts and feelings and this tends to make them a bigger issue. Mindfulness is about controlling and managing your thoughts and feelings. There are lots of ideas on line and YouTube is a great resource. Just search ‘mindfulness for children’.
Something I have found helpful is to ask children some questions about their worries.
- Is this a problem that is actually happening or is it something that might happen
- How big is this problem from 1 – 10, 1 being death and 10 being no problem at all
- What do you think you will think about this in a week a month a year
- What might make it a little bit better
One of the best ways to reduce the impact of negative feelings is a gratitude journal. This can be a simple book where children write or draw three things that they are grateful for. There are some lovely journals available via Amazon for example
Books and Resources
Kooth is an online counselling service for young people and is funded by Kent County Council.
Young people can access our service by logging on to www.kooth.com where they can speak privately to a BACP qualified counsellor through a text-based chat.
ThinkNinja is an app specifically designed to educate 10-18 year olds about mental health, emotional wellbeing and to provide skills young people can use to build resilience and stay well.
ThinkNinja is built on CBT principles, a psychological talking therapy based on the theory that our thoughts, feelings and our behaviour are all connected. CBT works to help us notice and change problematic thinking styles or behaviour patterns so we can feel better
How ThinkNinja works?
ThinkNinja® addresses a range of issues including stress, anxiety, low mood, or having unhelpful thoughts. All of which can be triggered by the pressures of modern life, such as exams, struggling to make friends or social situations. The user is coached by the WiseNinja, powered by artificial intelligence and the skills of a clinical psychologist.
Why choose ThinkNinja? ThinkNinja® is free to download for all children and young people with the correct access code, and can be downloaded via the Apple App Store or Google Play Store.