Hello, we are Dr Kate Dutton, a Senior Clinical Psychologist and Barnaby Rhodes, Child and Adolescent Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist. We have both worked in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services for many years. We now work at several of the Dixon Academy Schools across Bradford to assess and support the mental health of young people.
We know that this current time of stress and anxiety, created by a virus that is spreading and creating rapid change, has left us all with a need to live differently, totally differently, for an unknown amount of time.
Just like us, children and young people are trying to make sense of what this means for them, for their family, for their friends and why they have to stop doing the things they enjoy. As well as feeling relief that they can drop out of stuff that they find stressful and boring (school days, revision for SATS, GCSEs etc).
We have heard from many parents who are worried about the impact the coronavirus epidemic is having on their emotional health and their children’s mental well-being. Children and teenagers are sharing their own worries about how much this is affecting them.
We thought it would be helpful for each family to be sent a letter from us with some ideas about continuing to support their emotions and changed reality. It is only a guideline and many of you will already be doing most, if not all, of these. How much you take control of the structure will depend on your child’s personality and their age. This will be very different for an 11-year-old and a 17-year-old.
This will come to an end.
Although it feels endless, we need to remind ourselves and our children that it won’t be. We don’t know when but the life changes we are currently experiencing aren’t permanent. Knowing this makes it much easier to cope.
Creating a new Routine
Mental health guidelines for young people in isolation.
- Resist the urge to think of this as a break or holiday. Young people may want to stay up later and wake up later. Where you can, make sure your children are also awake at the same time each morning, as if it was a school and work day. Keep a regular bedtime routine as well. This will help the days feel more certain and will also help make it much easier to adjust back to school life when the time comes. Poor or prolonged sleep plays a big part in higher rates of anxiety and depression.
- Keep a daily structure during the week. Have set times to do work, have meals, family time and free time. It might help to write a timetable with them that gives time for school-work, breaks, meals and tv, social media, gaming etc. Though young people don’t like these structures, they help contain their emotions. We know that many children feel ‘safe and less worried’ when routines are put into place around them by adults. It is likely that school work will be set online or work sent home by teachers. Set aside the same time each day for young people to do this work without distractions.
- Encourage some form of exercise three times a week (or daily if possible), even if this is going for a walk or run for 30 minutes, obviously ensuring they are safe and within the Covid-19 guidelines for social distancing. Social isolating can trigger sad feelings and even depression. Exercise is scientifically known to combat these feelings, so use in-home equipment and find workouts online.
- Talk! Support them to talk, in the house with you and with friends remotely and safely on social media or game consoles. We might want to reduce their screen-time but online chatting with grandparents, cousins, friends etc. is better than staying in their bedrooms or in the house alone for long periods. We know that they are also likely to spend longer periods on YouTube as their school routine has changed – so even more important to find ways to talk more together.
- Ask. Talk about their worries and let them ask questions about what is happening. Answer carefully but truthfully. Limit the family exposure to news and ‘filter’ for them the news feeds and information from the government. Watch important news but too much news can create more anxiety so try not to have the TV or radio on in the background all day. Remember that your anxiety can really affect theirs!
- Purpose. This isn’t easy to create but is hugely important that young people feel their time has some purpose. It might help to suggest they develop a ‘project’ that can be done at home: a video diary, a letter to send to a local care home (many care homes are asking young people to send art work and letters to their older residents) or learning to draw or cook.