Sally Cotterell, a member of our counselling team, offers some advice on how to support your children and family during lockdown and the pandemic.
I am writing this on a Thursday, some weeks into the Covid-19 lockdown. I’m anticipating, with some excitement, what has become the new tradition for my family and neighbours. Every week we come out to join in with the street clap to thank all the NHS workers, Martlets staff and key workers.
It’s reassuring to see everyone and to shout and cheer together; we also check in with each other from a social distance to see how we are all doing. I realise how important these new ways of connecting are to me. Especially in forming structure and a familiar routine.
Supporting children during lockdown
My thoughts are also with all the parents. I wonder how they are managing to cope with their children, who are not in school. In particular, the parents who are, or have been, under the care of the Martlets. Being a parent can be a demanding job at the best of times. But especially if you are living with a life-limiting illness or caring for a family member who is shielding and more at risk of catching the virus. The recently bereaved will also be finding lockdown a particularly challenging time.
As a parents, we like to have the answers to the questions our children ask us. However, some of the questions we are being asked during these uncertain times we just do not know the answers to. It’s ok to say that. There are many things that we do know and we can reassure our children about. We might be asked by children “How long are we going to be in lockdown?”. We can answer honestly with something like, “I don’t know how long we will be asked to stay inside for, but I do know that we can plan each day to do something we all enjoy”. Whatever your circumstances, taking a day at a time is more manageable. This is essential if you’re living with illness or through grief.
Stay in touch with school
Although your child may not be attending school, the staff are still there to support you. If anything changes in your family, do keep the headteacher or form tutor informed. They are still a part of your family’s support network. Also, your teachers will value being kept in the picture. They will appreciate being up-to-date when your children return to school. The consistency of contact with the school can be helpful for children. If it is possible for them to join in with any virtual classes, this could provide some structure for the family unit.
Check in with each other
As a family, with children of different ages and needs, it can be helpful to check in with each other regularly. Find out how every individual is coping, what their worries may be, and whether there is anything they are needing on that day. Living with the uncertainties of an illness or the emotional responses of grief can be intense and overwhelming at times. Therefore it is vital, as parents, that you find some time and space for your own self-care. Take time out to ground yourself and recharge your batteries. Because a great deal of energy is required to care for children during lockdown.
Maintaining connections with family and friends is key to the wellbeing of the whole family and this can be through social media or by being creative. Children can draw pictures and write letters. They can even chalk messages on the pavements whilst out walking to communicate with their friends. It can be helpful to share ideas with each other to find ways of coping during these challenging times. The children’s book, The Invisible String, by Patrice Karst speaks about the unseen but unbreakable connections between us all. You can enjoy having the story told to you on You tube.
Coping with anxiety
Children who have experienced loss or illness in the family are likely to have heightened anxieties about the effects of Covid-19. It is important to share that the majority of people only have mild symptoms. They recover from it and that it is very rare for children to get the illness severely. Try to limit the amount of news your children and you watch because this can be overwhelming. Seeing and hearing distressing scenes may trigger difficult memories for the family. Focus instead on what you can control. For example, washing your hands and having some fun whilst doing so by making and blowing bubbles with the soap. BBC News has a useful video link Coronavirus: – Keep it Simple, stick to the facts- how parents should tell kids. Children need to know that as a family you will find a way through this. Also, as a community there is much hope and work taking place to find a vaccine.
The value of living more slowly
Despite the change of lifestyle the lockdown has imposed, there may be value in living a slower life together. Time can be taken to focus on what you do appreciate about each other and to discover new hobbies or explore past passions. I know for a lot of families under our care, time is precious. Please remember your family is not alone. If you are ‘on our books’ at Martlets and need support at this time, you can contact the patient and family support team. Just call 01273 273400.
Useful Services and information:
Cruse Bereavement Service
Cruse offer a bereavement helpline to give support as you need it. In addition you can also find resources on how to support your child on their website.
Winston’s Wish has a wealth of resources and advice on how to support your child through bereavement. This is whilst also dealing with your own grief. They also have a free phone helpline you can call.
Childhood Bereavement UK
Child Bereavement UK supports families and educates professionals when a baby or child of any age dies or is dying. They also support when a child is facing bereavement.
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