How to get your kids back out there and thriving after two years of lockdowns and isolation

Welcome to the Parents' Toolkit

It’s been a demanding time for most of us since March 2020 and the lockdowns imposed during the Covid-19 pandemic. As parents we’ve had to juggle probably more than we’ve ever had to before – being key workers or working from home, home-schooling, managing our children’s and our own anxieties, sadness, boredom… and screen time!

An opinion poll commissioned by Parents’ Toolkit and Netmums has been exploring parents attitudes to, and experience of, mental health issues among their children in the aftermath of Covid-19. Many parents expressed concern about their child’s ability and desire to reintegrate back into school life, and into extra-curricular activities.

Read the poll summary here. Full results to be available shortly

So, we’ve teamed up with Roxane Caplan, who is Head of Services at youth mental health charity YoungMinds, for some top tips on how to manage your child’s wellbeing and get them back out there doing the things they love post-pandemic.

Roxanne says: “Over the course of the pandemic, young people across all age ranges have struggled to cope with loneliness, anxiety, a loss of structure and fears about their future.

“Children – like adults – need time to adapt… Reassure them and be kind. Encourage them to reflect and think about things they can do to make themselves feel better.”

Three quarters of parents are worried about the mental health of their child

In the opinion poll of over 2000 parents, three out of four parents said they are sometimes or often worried about the mental health of their child. And almost a third of parents said they have noticed a deterioration in their child’s mental health in the last six months.

The main reasons those parents gave for the decline were: schoolwork pressures, poor quality sleep and friendship problems.

Roxanne says: “It’s understandable and to be expected that some young people may struggle to be in groups or around other children after long periods of social distancing and isolation. Every child and young person will respond differently to difficult situations.

“Some young people are likely to be particularly affected, including those with existing mental health problems, autism, and those who were already experiencing social inequalities.

"Some young people may have had limited contact with their peers and the outside world during the pandemic and may find loud noises, larger groups of people or daily tasks a little overwhelming, all of which might impact their confidence and ability to socialise with others.”

Children – like adults – need time to adapt.

YoungMinds

But Roxane says not to worry – it’s about being patient and listening to your child. Use that closeness that you may have built up during the pandemic to chat with your child regularly.

“Children – like adults – need time to adapt. It’s important to give young people time and space, and regularly check in with how they’re feeling. Take things gradually, and build up slowly.

“If you think your child is feeling disconnected from others around them and feeling anxious, try to help them talk through what they’re feeling with you.

"Reassure them and be kind, encourage them to reflect and think about things they can do to make themselves feel better. It may help to talk to others about how they’re feeling and to take their mind off things.

“You could also encourage them to find hobbies or interests that will help ease any anxiety they’re feeling and encourage them to connect with others.

Talking to other parents can help reduce the stigma

I think being as open as possible really helps in these situations.

Mum of a seven-year-old

In the opinion poll, over four in ten parents said their child has experienced challenges with their mental health.

One mum of a seven-year-old said: “I think being as open as possible really helps in these situations. It can be uncomfortable, but I feel it’s the only way to reduce the stigma around mental health.”

Roxanne says: “Many parents find it helpful to reach out to other parents so they can talk through how they have handled difficult situations with their children and get support. You can connect with other parents by:

“If your child is struggling and needs some help, you may be feeling really worried as a parent – and also like you’re not sure where to start. Remember that you and your child are not alone. You can also call the YoungMinds parents helpline for advice.”

Use our resources to help you have conversations with your kids

Roxanne says: "Talking to your child about how they’re feeling can be hard. You might feel like you don’t know where to start or when a ‘good time’ to talk is.

"By taking 20 minutes to do an activity you both enjoy, you can create a relaxed space for getting the conversation started. If you have a younger child, try an activity like baking, drawing or playing ball, or for a teenager you could take a walk together, share music or go for a drive.

"Talking to your child about how they’re feeling can be tough, especially if you’re concerned that they're having a hard time. You might not know what to say, or feel worried about how your child will react.

"It doesn’t matter what topic the conversation starts with – it’s about the opportunity it gives you to talk about feelings and provide comfort."

Remember, you know your child best. Parents’ Toolkit has a wealth of information on how to support your children with their mental health and wellbeing, from primary school through to the teenage years. For more on conversation starters, read our article with child psychologist Laverne Antrobus about talking to your child about their wellbeing, and use the links below for other helpful tips around creating a support network and managing your child’s anxiety.

And don’t forget to look after your own mental wellbeing too.

For helplines, textlines and information on other mental health services, look at BBC Action Line. The BBC Headroom campaign also has links to lots of helpful content around mental health.

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