During these unprecedented times, it’s normal to feel anxious and it’s important to remember you are not alone.  Professor Amanda Kirby, Clinical Advisor for Witherslack Group and CEO of Do-IT Solutions shares ideas and strategies that will help you support and manage you and your child’s anxiety during these challenging times

Being at home may be a great opportunity for your child to learn in lots of different ways. It is common to think that you need to emulate the classroom at home but you don’t, this can add a lot of stress on you at a time where you are likely to feel overwhelmed.

Homeschooling may be an opportunity to reduce the anxieties of your child. In the classroom they may be sitting down for long periods of time, have difficulties in understanding what they’re being taught, have sensory issues, noise in the classroom, changes in teachers, playing team sports, getting ready at speed and maybe conflicts with other children. 

Being at home can be positive as they are learning 1:1 and are in a home setting where you have control of the environment.

Why do we feel anxious? 

Nearly all of us feel anxious some of the time. People who are neurodiverse (ADHD, autism dyslexia, dyspraxia or ODD and learning challenges) have higher rates of anxiety. 

How does it affect your child? 

  • Your child becomes more clingy 
  • Tantrums and changes in behaviour 
  • Worries are internalised 
  • Headaches 
  • Bedwetting 
  • Waking in the night 
  • Panic attacks 

What causes anxiety? Drips, Dribbles and Gushes 

If you think of yourself as a bucket that fills up with different areas of your life, if it reaches the top and there is no capacity then it will overflow; you will become overwhelmed.  This is one of the challenges and what goes in your bucket is drips, dribbles and gushes. It can only be emptied through a tap at the bottom which lets water out at a different pace for everyone – this is your level of resilience. The flow into your bucket may cause a difference between it overflowing and not. 

What is flowing into your bucket? 

Level of stressExample
Drips. Today’s life’s events Lose a key, run out of toilet paper. 
Dribbles. Everyday life occurrences Sickness, work-related stress,
home concerns, children. 
Gushes. Major life events Death, divorce, marriage, redundancy.

Your child’s bucket 

Level of stressExample
Drip. Today’s life’s eventsCan’t see friends, change to routines. 
Dribbles. Everyday life occurrences. Get a cold, have an argument, break a toy. 
Gushes. Major life eventsDeath, divorce, loss of friendships.

Strategies to help you

Before you can help your children, you should take care of yourself. Self-care is the perfect antidote to stress and will help you build resilience, which in the long term will put you in a better place to help others.

The Happiness Trap

Dr Russ Harris, author of The Happiness Trap used the principle of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).  He uses the FACE acronym to illustrate his principles of self-care. This is a great way to build awareness and increase your overall resilience.

Focus on what’s in your control. You can’t change the world but you can manage your home and workspace.

  • You can focus on specific work 
  • You can choose the things you enjoy in your leisure time 
  • Stay connected – by phone or online 
  • You can take exercise 

Acknowledge your thoughts and feelings. 

  • You will have emotional waves that feel out of control 
  • Stop and acknowledge your feelings

Come back into your body. 

  • Stand up 
  • Press your feet up 
  • Push your hands together and stretch up tall 
  • Shrug your shoulder
  • Take slow and deep breaths 

Engage in what you’re doing. 

  • Be present
  • What is in front of you?
  • What can you smell? 
  • What can you hear? 

Strategies to help your child

It’s important to lead by example. Children can sense if you are stressed, and this will unintentionally have an impact on them. Below are some key strategies that you can use to reduce the stress levels your child may be experiencing.

1. Reduce your child’s anxieties 

  • Create structure and routines in the day. This is important for you and your child and can help you all feel safe
  • Have regular mealtimes 
  • Have fun! Share jokes, sing, dance and play. This can help you to be present 
  • Create a good sleep routine for everyone and exercise 
  • Stay connected with friends and family but avoid excess talk around Coronavirus 
  • Focus on what you can do and remain calm in front of your children 
  • Remember to listen to children, speak kindly and reassure them 
  • Provide facts about what has happened, explain what is going on 
  • Don’t keep checking the news and social media 

2. Lead by example

Show your child that you can enjoy yourself by having fun at home. Here are some of the ways you can do this:

  • Stroke your pet 
  • Dance 
  • Cook together 
  • Be silly – it’s ok and doing this together can show them you can enjoy yourself and this can help to reduce their anxieties. 

Plan your days and give your child chores, whether it be emptying the bin, washing the dishes, cooking together, clearing the table or sorting the socks. This can give them a sense of responsibility and can help them to feel they are contributing to the house.  

3. Create a calm environment

It’s important that you keep calm as stress or tension in the home can have a negative effect on your child. Here are a few examples of what you can do to create a calm environment.

  • Set aside time during the day to do some fun activities
  • Try to reduce arguments by holding family meetings 
  • Avoid talking about Coronavirus and watching the news/ checking your phone in front of children. 
  • Find your child’s comfort triggers and allow them to use them a little more if they are feeling uncertain. This can be music, toys, etc 

4. Deal with worries

It is inevitable that your child may be worried and to help them manage their anxieties and worries, you can try to:

Create a worry box 

  • Get your child to write down their worries 
  • Place the worries in the box 
  • The box can magically take their worries away
  • You can see the worries and concerns of your children 

5. Use activities to create a calmer environment

To help create a calm environment, you can get everyone at home to take part in shared activities. This is a great opportunity for older siblings to teach younger children and create a more fun environment.

Example of activities you could do:

  • Lego 
  • Jigsaw puzzles
  • Family karaoke 
  • Board games 
  • Card games 
  • Cooking meals – this allows you to do a whole host of skills training and link to math, science and English, as well as geography and history, read our article about this here
  • Read books together and get older siblings to get involved

Example of projects you could work on together:

  • Speak to family members to research your family history 
  • Sort out family photos together
  • Create a family song by using instruments from around the house
  • Create a video together
  • Take part in sensory activities 
  • Get active together by taking part in circuit training 
  • Garden together. No matter how big or small your space is, you can enjoy and reap the benefits of taking part in gardening.

Learn a new skill together:

You can also take this opportunity to teach your child a new skill or revisit your old hobbies and share them with your child. This maybe:

  • Knitting 
  • Learning a song 
  • Planting seeds 
  • Playing card games 
  • Baking 
  • Cooking meals 
  • Carpentry 
  • Drawing  

6. Take some time out for yourself

It’s important that as a parent you are kind to yourself and remember that you are not a school teacher. It’s advised that you take some time out for yourself and take part in activities that you enjoy. Here are a few ideas to help you unwind.

  • Watch a cooking programme 
  • Share jokes with friends 
  • Listen to music you love 
  • Dance in the kitchen
  • Watch old box sets that invoke positive feelings 
  • Take a warm bath and light a candle

7. Balance shifts and work 

If you have a partner can you set up ’shifts’ for childcare? Working together can help ease the pressure off you and can contribute to a happier home.

There will be instances when you feel overwhelmed and to help you manage this, take part in mindful activities and get your child involved in them too. This can be:

  • Sorting the lego out 
  • Tidying cupboards 
  • Cooking
  • Cleaning
  • Look after your pets 

8. Manage sleep 

It’s important to maintain a bedtime routine to help you and your child as good quality sleep can set you up for the day. Here are some ideas that you can implement to help you unwind and get ready for sleep.

  • Have a warm bath (add lavender oil)
  • Reading a story 
  • Time for a chat. This will allow your child to share their concerns
  • A weighted blanket/ being tucked in can help your child to feel secure and protected 

During these challenging and changing times, it’s important to take the pressure off yourself and focus on what you can control. 

This blog is based on a webinar with Professor Amanda Kirby, ‘Managing you and your child’s anxiety during self-isolation’ click here to watch it.