Children's Mental Health

26/03/2021

Spring is here, lockdown is easing, the weather hopefully is improving and the flowers are definitely deciding it is safe to show their colours. Thoughts are looking towards new beginnings but life is full of both beginnings and endings; be that moving house, changing school or job, relationships or indeed when someone we know dies. They serve a huge purpose in the human mind; they can be a goal to work towards; exams being a perfect example; or they may provide the necessary closure on a chapter of life to enable us to process our emotions and move on, like a funeral or memorial service.

For many of our children and young people the Corona Virus pandemic with its associated lockdowns and social restrictions means that they have lost or will lose significant endings from their lives. Many will miss out on traditional end of year 'rituals'; from the pre-schooler moving up to reception, year 6's transitioning to high school, as well as those due to take their exams and attend proms and parties. Losing all of this without warning will be very difficult for some to understand. 

If this is the case for your child, there are ways you can help them. Make sure you listen to how they are feeling and let them know that it is ok to feel like that. Asking questions, even hard ones can show a child that it is okay to talk about difficult subjects and feelings, never asking shows them that it is not. 

It is important to check in with your child on a regular basis to highlight any potential problems early. Some good conversation starters include:

Is anything worrying you? You don’t seem your usual self today.

What are you doing during breaktime? Who are you spending time with?

How is your body feeling? Are you having stomach or headaches?

Is it easy for you to fall asleep?

Is anything making you scared? Would you like to talk about anything?

Do you have any problem paying attention?

You look sad, do you want to have a chat about it?

Have you been feeling cranky/grumpy?

Do you know what’s bothering you?

Who are your friends now? What do you do with them?

It is important to find an appropriate and relaxed time to have the conversation. Personally, I like a car journey which avoids direct face to face positions which I feel can be confrontational but it is important to give the child your full focus wherever you choose.

Be clear what you will do with the information, and consider how you will respond if asked ‘not to tell anyone’. Don’t over react but equally, don’t dismiss or minimise what they are saying.  Offer empathy and understanding rather than solutions. Ask open questions to encourage them to talk.

Acknowledge their feelings, for young children, playing with toys or drawing whilst having the conversation can be helpful.

Make plans for when the restrictions are relaxed, but make sure they are what your children want, not yourself. This could be organising a party, playdates or simply using the internet just to keep in touch with their friends (great even for the littlest ones).

Sometimes talking to someone who isn’t a parent can be helpful, there are many times when I have treated children osteopathically who have then opened up about something that is bothering them. For teens especially, this can work well.

If you feel you need more help than you can provide, there are many places to get help. Contact your local GP or health visitor who can refer you to CAMHS. The camhs website has much more information on available help.

For mental health:           www.dorsetmind.uk

For child bereavement:    www.mosaicfamilysupport.org

 

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