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Social, emotional and mental health for families

A helpful guide to focusing on the wellbeing of the whole family during school closures and times of upheaval.

Child painting on cardboard. Image: Tatiana Syrikova via Pexels

The question of 'wellbeing' means different things to different families. It might include some or all of the following:

  • Staying healthy: physical exercise and diet
  • Avoiding boredom: activities to keep us entertained 
  • Combatting loneliness: the difficulties associated with being separated from family and friends 
  • Staying mentally healthy: guarding against anxiety, worry and the constant stream of negative news and press. 
  • Anxiety associated with loss of income    
  • Managing relationships: friends and family 
  • Feelings of physical restriction: claustrophobia / sharing a living and working space 
  • Suffering abusive and / or toxic relationships.

Whatever the risk, physical and emotional wellbeing for the whole family is arguably the most important aspect we need to focus on during the challenging weeks ahead.

Guides on the wellbeing of the whole family:

Specific wellbeing resources:

Dealing with changing circumstances:

See also:


Government guidance

The government have produced guidance for parents and carers on supporting their own, as well as children and young people’s mental health during this period of self-isolation:

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NHS top tips

The NHS has produced very helpful top tips in collaboration with Every Mind Matters to support wellbeing for families.

It offers useful advice on how to keep to a routine and continuing to engage in activities that you all enjoy:

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Mental heath

For any adult concerned about the emotions and behaviour of a child or young person:

Young Minds also has a Covid-19 page with blogs and ideas about support during this time: 

Interesting articles on supporting wellbeing and mental health, particularly around how to have difficult conversations with children about Covid 19:

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Managing anxiety

An interesting short video on managing anxiety and OCD during the pandemic:

Some very useful articles for families in a variety of contexts:

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Pregnancy and young babies

For parents of very young babies, or those who are mid-way through a pregnancy, this may be a particularly worrying time. These organisations offer support to pregnant women and their families:

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Dealing with changing circumstances

During periods of upheaval, it can be particularly challenging to meet the needs of the whole family. Families now are juggling the school partial reopening, meaning that some children may be going back, while brother and sisters are not.

Not only is this difficult for practical reasons (such as getting some children to school while caring for others at home), but perceptions of fairness may well escalate during this time. It may be hard, for example, not to meet friends when your sister can, or go to school when your brother gets to stay at home. 


Explaining the situation

Social stories can be a useful way to explain changes in circumstance to children with special educational needs. Beaucroft Foundation School have a wide range of excellent resources:

For example, Going to school part time (PDF, 0.2MB) uses common visual symbols to explain the changes and has an excellent example of a simple visual calendar to show when a child is at home and when at school. 

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Supporting the transition back into school

Communication with the school is absolutely crucial at this time. You will need to know how social distancing and deep cleaning measures are being handled so that you can prepare your child.

Children with sensory sensitivities may find changes, such as hand gel use, need to be discussed and experienced at home. Children with communication needs may need more time to learn and practice new routines.

Children who are used to physical contact from a teacher if they are distressed will need creative solutions to find ways to show reassurance. These organisations offer support for families:

Government general guidance:

Legal experts at Understood have created a useful set of frequently asked questions:

A robust and detailed document on returning to school:

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Giving choices

When children are powerless in a situation, it can be important to give choice where possible. For example, if a child is upset that she can’t see her friends unlike her brother who is going into school, suggest she chooses a schoolfriend to video call and perhaps make this part of her daily timetable.

Small choices can help, such as asking if a child wishes to eat breakfast with the sibling and travel with them on the school drop off. For the child wishing not to go to school, choices might include choosing favourite meals before and after school and planning activities after school or at the weekend.

Some children will benefit if activities are written, drawn or represented on a calendar, time-line or timetable.

The May Institute offer a range of helpful strategies to offer choices and understand preferences for children who may find it more difficult to express opinions:

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Practical advice

Practical advice (and lots of useful links) on managing family wellbeing:

Specific advice for families who have children with sensory processing disorders:

The BBC and National Geographic have a wealth of resources to keep children of all ages entertained:

Specific advice for the whole family: 

Useful blogs on all aspects of family wellbeing:

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Tips for positive mental health and wellbeing for the whole family

  • Limit the news or social media coverage as there is a lot of information and it can be overwhelming.
  • Connect with your friends and loved ones using video messaging, texting and phone calls. 
  • Add self-care for the while family into your daily routine whether it be a meditation, cooking or whatever you all find relaxing.
  • Focus on your emotional and mental health. 
  • Keep busy during quarantine, maybe start a new hobby, make something, or even declutter but don’t put undue stress on yourself. 
  • Share your coping skills with others including your children.
  • Encourage your children to talk about their worries so they are not bottling things up.
  • Create a solid routine that works for you all and allow flexibility when needed.
  • Exercise can be positive for mental health and do what you enjoy.
  • If you enjoy cooking, get in the kitchen and experiment with the ingredients you have.

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Domestic violence

Information about services and refuges in local areas:

The National Domestic Abuse Hotline runs a 24 hour helpline for people at risk of domestic violence: 

  • Hotline: 0808 200 0247 

ChildLine

The overwhelming advice is to do what works for you as a family. Don’t feel pressured by things you feel you should be doing.

Trust your instinct, do what makes your family life feel calmer and happier. And remember, this time will pass.

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Family-based shared activities 

Shared activities that promote fun and laughter can be so important in times of stress. Some activities can be modified to include everyone. An example of this is a child who would build walls with blocks, but become upset when another child knocked the wall down. When the game was re-branded ‘The Build Up, Knock Down Game’, the situation became much better.

Older children or teenagers who may be reluctant to come off a screen to play ‘boring’ games, may respond well to choices, such as deciding when to play (and putting it into the timetable) and choosing a game from two or three options. 

Parentcircle suggest ten activities and games for children with special educational needs: 

Sensory processing games and activities that develop fine and gross motor skills:

FirstCry parenting also have some fun ideas for all the family:

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