A helpful guide to focusing on the wellbeing of the whole family during school closures and times of upheaval.
- 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:
- Practical advice
- Tips for positive mental health and wellbeing for the whole family
- Domestic violence
- Family-based shared activities
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:
- Guidance for parents and carers on supporting children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak (Gov.uk website)
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:
- Mental wellbeing while staying at home (NHS website)
For any adult concerned about the emotions and behaviour of a child or young person:
- Young Minds - Parents Helpline (Young Minds website)
Young Minds also has a Covid-19 page with blogs and ideas about support during this time:
- Coronavirus and mental health (Young Minds website)
Interesting articles on supporting wellbeing and mental health, particularly around how to have difficult conversations with children about Covid 19:
- Managing your mental health during the coronavirus outbreak (Mental Health UK website)
- Mental health and psychosocial considerations during the COVID-19 outbreak (PDF, 0.5MB) on the World Health Organisation (WHO) website
An interesting short video on managing anxiety and OCD during the pandemic:
Some very useful articles for families in a variety of contexts:
- Parenting Through Coronavirus (COVID-19) on the The Institute of Health Visiting website
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:
- Coronavirus infection and pregnancy (Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists)
- Pandas Foundation website
- #COVIBOOK -Supporting and reassuring children around the world (MindHeart website) - a lovely book written for children under 7 to help explain Covid 19
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:
- Social Stories and Other Supportive Resources (Beaucroft Foundation School website)
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.
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:
- Special Education and the Coronavirus: Legal FAQs (Understood website)
A robust and detailed document on returning to school:
- Coronavirus special edition: Back to school (PDF, 1.3MB) on The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development website
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:
- Helping Children with Special Needs Make Choices (May Institute website)
Practical advice (and lots of useful links) on managing family wellbeing:
- Coping practically and emotionally during the Covid-19 outbreak (family lives website)
The BBC and National Geographic have a wealth of resources to keep children of all ages entertained:
- Teach - Free primary and secondary school teaching resources and Bitesize (BBC website)
- National Geographic Kids website
Specific advice for the whole family:
- COVID-19 Support and Guidance (Council for disabled children website)
Useful blogs on all aspects of family wellbeing:
- Coronavirus: Helpful information to answer questions from children (Place2be website)
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.
Information about services and refuges in local areas:
- Domestic violence and abuse - organisations which give information and advice (citizens advice website)
The National Domestic Abuse Hotline runs a 24 hour helpline for people at risk of domestic violence:
- Hotline: 0808 200 0247
- Helpline: 0800 11 11
- childline website
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.
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:
- Games and activities for children with special needs and autism (ParentCircle website)
Sensory processing games and activities that develop fine and gross motor skills:
- Activities for children with special needs (The Special Needs Child website)
FirstCry parenting also have some fun ideas for all the family:
- Top 40 fun indoor games for kids (Firstcry website)