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Signs of distress in your children during coronavirus

Coronavirus has changed our adult lives but what about the impact on your children?

Surveys carried out in this period, indicate that whilst some children are loving being at home for a prolonged period, others are showing signs of distress and parents are not sure what to do to help. If you’re worried, here are some ways you can spot the signs of declining wellbeing in your children and support them during these challenging times.

According to research, significant periods of change can trigger distress for children who are already vulnerable. Right now, the coronavirus is changing many things in children’s lives, from their usual school routine to not being able to see their friends or wider family and possibly mum and dad trying to work from home too.

Signs of distress

More expressed sadness, anger or fear are associated with increased distress in these times of change. In surveys by charities and health foundations, parents list the biggest emotional and behavioural change in their children as being increasingly agitated, moody or upset. These signs were spotted by over half of parents who had seen a negative impact on their children’s wellbeing since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Other emotional signs to look out for include:

  • Crying more than usual
  • Persistent sadness
  • Irritability and aggression – particularly if this manifests in frequent, unprompted outbursts
  • Appearing bored more often than normal
  • Talking about morbid topics such as death or suicide

Some of the behavioural signs of distress include:

  • Young children may become more clingy while young adults withdraw more
  • Losing interest in friends and other things they normally like doing
  • Being reluctant to talk 
  • Difficultly attending to tasks or concentrating 
  • Changes in appetite
  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Increased incidences of bed wetting for younger children
  • Frequent headaches or stomach aches
  • Sudden weight changes
  • Teeth grinding
  • Loss of hair
  • Self-harm

What you can do to support your children

Be open and honest with your children. Give them chance to talk about what is worrying them and see if they can come up with a solution. Offer them your full support and make sure you let them lead the conversation. Listen and respond in a respectful manner so they know their worries are being heard and understood.

Explain what’s being done about coronavirus and to keep people safe at a government level, school and community level and in your family. Do check out their sources of information and watch the news together to correct misinformation. Limit access to news and social media if they are struggling to cope with the onslaught of difficult news.

Encourage your children to stay connected with family and friends. Can your children join in family face timing or support grandparent in getting more tech savvy? Support your children to use their free time to digitally connect with loved ones and friends. Do monitor digital use and ensure they are communicating safely online.

Support your kids in taking exercise outside. Children and young people need a minimum of 60 minutes exercise a day. Not only does this benefit them physically, but the fresh air and movement is good for their wellbeing. Make exercise fun and involve the children in making the choices. Include some at home exercise too from joining virtual groups online for family exercise to family dance-offs. 

What about the teenagers and college students returned home?

Be kind and understanding to your teenager’s different perspective on lockdown. Do not take offense if they seem more worried about their lost social lives or seem less interested in the difficulties faced by others. As the world seems more challenging, it is a natural response for some teenagers to focus in on their own worlds and interests. Take time to connect with their thinking and make the most of the opportunities for interaction and involvement. Enable them to take more responsibility for supporting other family members with their learning from grandparents to younger children and invite them to educate you on their studies. Be careful to be a guide or an encourager to your teenage students rather than a teacher unless invited!

If you have university students living at home again, expect that they are finding the curtailing of freedom to be difficult. Agree the rules for the return to home, identify barriers to a smooth family life and solutions.

Some other useful resources to help you talk to your children about coronavirus are: