Written: September 2020
We wrote this article just before schools in England opened in September, 2020. The article explores a range of issues that might still be helpful to your family as the pandemic develops.
Change through lockdown
The variable restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have affected families across the country in a number of ways, including most notably widespread school closures to then reopen in September with new measures in place including around the way children are able to learn, socialise and play with friends. As a result, the pandemic has had a major emotional impact, causing families to feel like they have lost a sense of safety, control and security. During the lockdown, your family may have experienced change in a variety of ways, which could have impacted on how your child felt or feels about going to school. It is normal to feel upset or confused and there are ways to help you and your child understand and deal with such feelings. This might be true for your family, and we want you to know you are not alone; we have set out some tips in this article to help you deal with this.
Change is different for everyone, and the types of change which individuals have experienced as a result of living through the pandemic have varied, including a feeling of loss for the world we were all so used to. Sometimes our perspective on how others cope with change or loss can cause disagreement if their responses are different from our own, as we all experience things differently. This is completely understandable because change can create some powerful emotions. It can help to talk these feelings through with others and to understand how you may respond differently from other people and even from your child. It can also help to remember that as difficult as these feelings can be, they do become less intense over time.
The image below shows some examples of change that children and young people in particular have told us that they have experienced during the pandemic. There may also be other examples you can think of which relate to your family.
- A change of routine
- A change in self-esteem or how confident you feel
- Change to how the school year was completed
- A change to how exams usually happen
- A change in how we are able to socialise, perhaps leading to loneliness
- A change in how comfortable you feel in school or how much school you have had
It may be that your family has experienced one, or more of these changes. We know that seeing your children experience these types of changes or losses would have been incredibly difficult to witness and to work through, and having conversations with them around it could seem daunting too. Gaging how they feel more generally about the types of change and loss they have experienced could be a good way to explore this, and best done in small bites over time. This can feel less scary for them than saving up these questions for a big conversation.
Here are some questions you can ask to open up the conversation:
- Do you feel like you have missed out on anything because of the pandemic? What have you missed out on?
- Is there anything we can try to do to make up for it?
- How does that make you feel?
Coping with Change
If your child is experiencing a range of emotions because of a change or loss they have experienced, there are ways to help them manage how they are feeling so they slowly begin to feel less overwhelmed.
Feelings of worry
Knowing it is normal and natural to feel uneasy or worried, even if this stays with them for a long period of time can be reassuring to hear from an adult. You could say things like:
- I know it’s been a challenging time but we will get through it together
- I feel worried too sometimes, and its normal, but what’s important is that you tell me or another adult so that we can help
- This feeling will go away, but how can we make you feel more comfortable until it does?
Feelings of lost confidence
Feelings of unease or worry can lead to a feeling of lost confidence, particularly if we are more distant from our family and friends during the pandemic. It can help to arrange opportunities to socialise at a safe distance either outside or virtually. This might help your child to feel closer to people that bring them comfort and who understand them. This might help with feelings of self-confidence.
You could say things like:
- I know everything is not exactly how we would want it to be, but what things do you think we could do to make us feel as normal as possible as a family?
- Is there anything we could try to do differently to make you feel less worried about things?
Losing particular opportunities or planned events can be really hard to accept for your child. It could feel extremely unfair. It might help to plan ahead and provide other events or opportunities for your family to look forward to. These will not replace the lost plans but they can help provide focus for moving forward.
If your child is a teenager it can be helpful to avoid saving up a discussion on feelings for one big conversation. Instead, you may find it helpful to try discussing the subject a bit at a time. For advice on talking to or supporting teenagers see here.
Here are some reassuring words you can use:
What sorts of emotions have you been feeling lately? How would you describe them? What can I do to support you?
I know we are doing things a bit differently than before, and it might be tough sometimes, but we are going to get through it.
We recognise that you may have strong feelings about the subject of change or loss too. It can be difficult if your child needs your support but the topic brings up strong feelings or difficult memories for you as well. If you feel able to, take some time to look after yourself or find opportunities to do this. You could visit our family support hub for support with your own well being here or see this advice on parenting through the lockdown from the Mental Health Foundation here.
Loss of Routine
Sometimes abrupt endings can cause strong emotions from within us, especially when they relate to our everyday lives. The pandemic halted all our lives and routines, and changed them overnight without warning. Keeping some kind of limited routine can give us something to anchor on to when we are coping with change or loss. There is no rush to ‘get back to normality’, especially given the changing nature of the pandemic, but a few regular activities repeated throughout the week can help create a sense of stability within your home. Not only could this provide comfort to your children, but you too.
When we experience change or loss, there can be a strong feeling that things are missing or not as they usually are. A routine can really help to provide something stable that we can hold onto, and an experience of normality. However, it’s okay not to go straight back to a ‘normal’ routine for the whole day, as you were pre-pandemic, which of course might not be possible, and might even feel too much.
Often, when we think about routines, we tend to think big; but small repeated activities can have big impacts on your household. This can be as simple as a few regular tasks each morning like cleaning your teeth, washing your face and eating breakfast as a family. These types of routines can help create structure without feeling too much. You could consider sitting down to create a small piece of your daily routine together as a family. For example, you could decide together as a family that you will play a dinner time game together every night, like charades every weekday.
Support for parents/carers
We recognise that supporting your child through these unprecedented times may have been a big challenge for you too. Managing your own worries and those concerning your child might have even felt difficult to cope with some days. Taking some time to look after your own emotional wellbeing is important and benefits both you and your child. For some tips and suggestions on how to do this, see the looking after yourself section of the emotional wellbeing support hub.