How do we support children to feel optimistic and relaxed about the future? Why mental health of our household needs to be our first priority.

By Nicola Edwards, Child and Teen Therapist and Author.

As lockdown lifted, the world quickly started scurrying around like ants to reclaim their freedom, missed opportunities and a semblance of normal. In a blink, schools were back in their new bubble formation, parents returned to work and the ‘little things’ we so missed started to reappear. Whilst some have embraced the return to old routines, what about the children and parents who have struggled to return to normal?

The children with high functioning anxiety, who loved the peace and reduced expectations of lockdown?

The children with separation anxiety, who were enthralled with time with their parents?

The children whose worries reduced in the safety of their home?

The return to normal, for some, has been peaked with anxiety and worries, however, there are adaptations we can make to maintain some of the important lessons learnt in lockdown.  

Reduce the pressure

The upheaval of school examinations in the summer of 2020 has meant many children have returned to a school year with new pressures to ensure that data is in place to support next year’s results. Coupled with the new rules and changes to social interactions, many children and teenagers are feeling quickly overwhelmed. Reducing external pressures, encouraging some downtime and relaxation becomes imperative to counterbalance the increasing stress. Whilst we want our children to do their best, their best comes from having good mental health and a positive mind-set. Ensuring that our weeks have scheduled downtime, opportunities to laugh, have fun and relax is vital to supporting our families’ well-being and mental health.

Develop your routines

Our brains thrive on patterns and consistency. Children need boundaries and consistent expectations to feel safe and allow them to relax. By keeping the daily routines consistent, we reduce anxiety, increase confidence and encourage independence as children know ‘what’s coming next’. Spending time as a family developing clear daily routines and ensuring that parents and carers are on the same wave length supports our children to be able to focus on what they need.

Focus on connection

Days are so much busier than they were 10 or 20 years ago. Social media, electronic devices and 24/7 operations of services means that we can keep ‘busy’ all day long. Lockdown removed the pressure, removed so many services and allowed us to connect again. So many thrived on zoom parties with family, phone calls with friends and having uninterrupted time with their children. If children know they have uninterrupted time they can relax and conversation can flow. Dedicating an hour or two each day to connecting with our children opens doors to talking about our highs, lows, successes and worries, as well as offering time and space to explore emotions. Therefore, allowing us to intervene and support faster if something is causing them worry or distress.  

Make time for fun

When we laugh and enjoy ourselves, our bodies release a flood of endorphins which not only make us feel good, but increase our well-being. Laughter reduces stress, elevates our mood and strengthens our resilience, offering so many benefits to our well-being. Planning regular, fun and carefree activities where the family can laugh together supports promoting positive mental health.