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Life under lockdown ...looking after your child's mental health; With schools closed, clubs cancelled and playdates a distant memory, life has changed beyond recognition for kids in the UK. Rachel Ferster asks the experts how to help them adapt to their new normal.

Byline: Rachel Ferster

ACROSS the country, children have been stuck in their family homes for weeks. Away from friends and school, this new way of life is taking its toll on their mental health.

A survey commissioned by children's charity World Vision has shown one in three British children aged five to 18 have told parents they are lonely since schools shut.

And, unsurprisingly, almost a third of parents have noticed negative changes in children's behaviour since lockdown - including tantrums, meltdowns, nightmares, tummy ache, fighting and crying.

Daniela Buzducea, from World Vision, said the global pandemic is having a serious impact, leaving some children frightened, insecure and isolated.

So how can parents look after their youngsters' mental health in these stay-athome days? Daniela said: "Parents can give children emotional support, reduce stress levels and help them feel safe. It's important to find out what children have heard about the pandemic and listen to their concerns. Parents should talk calmly and explain in away appropriate to their child's level of understanding.

"It may be easier for young children to draw a picture rather than talk about something scary. Offer them crayons and paper."

Here are more ways to support your children through the lockdown.

EXPLAIN IT Child psychologist Dr Alicia Drummond, author of Teen Tips, runs a podcast aimed at helping parents cope in isolation.

She suggests finding a quiet moment to talk honestly with your children, whatever their age.

"Recognise this is a challenging time. Tell them it is a serious situation but it won't last forever," she said.

"Young children may not understand why birthday parties and family outings have been cancelled. Or they might worry about parents or grandparents catching the virus."

"Discuss with your children how your family is doing everything it can to minimise the risks, such as washing their hands and social distancing.

"Encourage them to keep in touch with grandparents and other family members online. Make sure you don't have the news on all the time. Constant updates can feel overwhelming and even the youngest kids pick up on the anxiety of adults."

DISCOVER THEIR WORRIES Dr Peter Fuggle, clinical psychologist at the child mental health research Anna Freud Centre, said for children aged three to seven, playing together may be the best way to find out what is worrying your child.

Often, the games children play are based on what they are thinking. There are a host of programmes and initiatives to help young kids understand the current situation.

Sesame Street has launched a new website Caring for Each Other (sesamestreet. org/caring), while Sky Kids has introduced virtual playdates.

Dr Emma Maynard, psychologist and senior lecturer in education at University of Portsmouth, said younger children, mainly those under seven, need plenty of reassurance. She added: "If you are self-isolating and can't hug them, let them hold their favourite teddies and toys for as long as they want."

Maynard also suggested putting hug tokens in a jar for cashing in after isolation. This also works for teenagers who have missed out on some key celebrations. By postponing them until autumn or even next year, it reminds them we will not be in lockdown forever.

STICK TO ROUTINES Structure is important for kids of all ages, as is regular exercise. "Routine is very reassuring for children. Stick to regular mealtimes and bedtimes. It's important to eat well and sleep well and routine also helps the day pass more quickly," said Dr Maynard. "Family playtime is also important in isolation and children learn every time they play."

While some families have embraced home schooling with fixed timetables of lessons, don't worry if it doesn't work for your family. "It might be better to have a more gentle, sustainable work and play routine that can be maintained over time," said Dr Maynard.

STAY CREATIVE Now that we are spending more time together we need to keep our routine creative. For older children showing heightened anxiety, try Headspace for Kids (headspace.com).

Its series of guided meditations are designed to help calm children down and focus their minds. For seven to 12-yearolds, there are numerous online resources reached through a simple google search.

Bear Grylls has teamed up with the Scouts organisation to launch the Great Indoors to provide fun inside activities.

Strictly's Oti Mabuse is running dance classes and David Walliams is reading his children's books online.

For more ideas, try artfulparent.com for craft activities, littlecooks.co.uk for baking courses and cosmickids.com for online yoga. Teenagers can join Club Quarantine's DJ D-Nice on Friday nights, 7-9pm on Instagram live, as an alternative to going out.

reassuring Stick to mealtimes SPACE TO CHILL If you are getting cabin fever staying at home, Dr Alicia Drummond'suggested making a quiet corner where kids can take time out. If your children are squabbling and driving you to distraction, take yourself off to the quiet area instead.

If you can, create a separate space in your home for learning and relaxation.

But if that's not possible, then make sure you pack away school work once the day is done.

STAY CONNECTED The most important part of staying healthy during this period of isolation is staying in touch. "Staying connected is important for safeguarding our children's mental health through the lockdown," said Dr Maynard.

"Encourage your children to chat with friends using Google Hangouts or Zoom."

But while social media plays a part in helping our children stay sociable, it is also a good idea to have a time and place to connect that is offline.

Go for a walk near your house or build a den if you have a garden. Woodlandtrust.org.uk has produced a list of nature activities children can do at home and the Happy Little Farmer App has great ideas to encourage children to get into gardening.

HELP OTHERS Thinking about others in the community is a great way to reduce stress. Put together a care box of homemade cards and biscuits for NHS staff, or teach older children life skills such as cooking a meal or using the washing machine. They'll feel better if they know they are helping you.

Remember to take time out for yourself too, it will help you support your children better in the long run.

USEFUL WEBSITES C/ AnnaFreud.org - Extensive online resource during isolation C/ Worldvision.org.uk - Tips on how to talk to your child about coronavirus C/ FamilyLives.org.uk - Advice for all the family on managing anxiety C/ YoungMinds.org.uk - Tips on dealing with isolation.

C/ Place2Be.org.uk - Children's mental health charity answers coronavirus questions. C/ Anxietyuk.org.uk - Has a dedicated web page with webinars for parents

7- If at suggested Routine is reassuring for children. Stick to regular mealtimes and bedtimes
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Author:Rachel Ferster
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Apr 20, 2020
Words:1132
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