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Coronavirus: ‘Looking after Yourself, Looking after Your Children’

Luton’s Psychology Service, Autism and SEN Teams provide advice, guidance and resources for ‘Looking after Yourself, Looking after Your Children’

During challenging times, it is important to pay attention to our mental health. It is normal to feel worried, stressed and anxious when we are faced with uncertain situations, but the sooner we acknowledge and learn to take care of our mental health, the healthier and better equipped we’ll be to cope with the situation we're having to face.

Wellbeing advice for families

In response to the school closures in Luton, Child and Educational psychologist Dr. Juliet O'Callaghan provides some wellbeing tips and advice for families in Luton and those around the country.

 

Returning to school in Luton

Listen to educational psychologists, Helena, Juliet and Becky, from Luton council talk about the key advice they are giving parents to help them to support their child's return to school.

 More about supporting children with special educational needs and disabilities to return to school from Anne Longfield the Children's Commissioner for England.

Looking after yourself

Taking care of our mental health and checking in on others is something that we can all do, and we need to remember that by looking after our own mental health, we’ll be best placed to look after our children.  Remember when they tell you on aeroplanes that you need to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others, it’s like that. Even when time is pressurised, try to plan your days or weeks to include something from each of the ‘5 ways to wellbeing’.

Be active

Try to make sure that you and your family get regular exercise every day.  You Tube has lots of exercise videos for kids and adults.  Get children involved in planning their own ‘indoor PE’.  If current government advice permits, try to get outside once a day either into your garden if you have one or in a place where there are few people.  If you can’t go out, open the windows for some fresh air and take some time to look at the world outside.

Take notice

Take a break from the news and social media and concentrate on what’s happening in the here and now in your family. Notice and appreciate the small things. Being aware of what is taking place in the present directly enhances your wellbeing. There’s lots of good mindfulness apps to try, but if that’s not for you, just getting into something you enjoy e.g. cooking, drawing etc and really focussing on it can be just as good.

Connect

Social connection is one of the most important ways that we can look after our mental wellbeing.  Social distancing is going to make that trickier, but we’re lucky enough to have technology to help us out. Think physical distancing, but social connections.  Social media is great, but if you can, try to have phone calls or even video calls.  Arrange to Facetime/Skype a friend for coffee, phone relatives more often than usual.  Whilst it can be helpful to share worries, try to find other things to talk about too.

Give

Giving back to our community helps people to feel valuable and makes us happier.  We might not be able to contribute to our community in our usual way, but many people will still be able to find ways to give back. Lots of community groups are setting up schemes that aim to help vulnerable people at this difficult time.  If you want to get involved, check out local social media for ideas. Many of us will not be in a position to offer practical support.  We can still offer mutual support to friends and family by checking in with them regularly.

Keep learning

Learning a new skill or honing an existing one gives us a sense of purpose and achievement.  Whilst we’re busy learning, we’re less likely to experience anxious thoughts and worries. Social-distancing will bring new challenges, but it will give many of us the time to start a new hobby or learn about an area that we’ve always been interested in.

Looking after yourself – returning to school

Taking care of our mental health and checking in on others is something that we can all do, and we need to remember that by looking after our own mental health, we’ll be best placed to look after our children.  Remember when they tell you on aeroplanes that you need to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others, it’s like that. Try to plan your days and weeks to incorporate these 5 key principles known to support recovery after a significant event.

A sense of safety

Some parents will be concerned about how safe it will be for their child to return to school. For some families there will be vulnerabilities that increase this anxiety such as having an elderly family member living in the same household or being of a Black, Asian or minority ethnic background. Your child’s school is the best source of information about what the return to school will be like, so make sure you look out for their communications over the coming few weeks. If you are concerned about any aspects of your child’s return, then make contact with your child’s teacher or head of house/ year and ask for a conversation or meeting.

A sense of calm

You are likely to be experiencing a range of emotions about your child returning to school and it is perfectly normal to experience both relief and worry at the same time. Do try to limit the amount of news and social media you access and remember some of information being shared may not be accurate. Take time to be in the here and now with your family. Being aware of what is taking place in the present directly enhances your wellbeing. There are lots of good mindfulness apps to try, but if that’s not for you, just getting into something you enjoy e.g. cooking, drawing etc. and really focussing on it can be just as good.

Social connectedness

Giving back to our community helps people to feel valuable and makes us happier.  We might not be able to contribute to our community in our usual way, but many people will still be able to find ways to give back. You may wish to connect with other families from your school to share both the highs and the lows of lockdown through a Whatsapp or Facebook group. Or maybe just reach out to a few families that you used to meet at the school gates for a virtual drop off a few times a week.

A sense of self and collective self-efficacy

We have all struggled to deal with a loss of control of even the simplest of things like getting a haircut, but it is important that you focus on the aspects of this situation you can control. Take the opportunity of no longer having to home school to do something to improve your health and wellbeing such as exercise or creative hobby.  Speak to the school and other parents about holding a commemoration for the people who have died to honour and celebrate them. You could also find out if your school has set up a forum to consider the particular needs of black, Asian and ethnic minority families and offer your support, or if they don’t have a forum suggest setting one up.

Promoting hope

It is ok to have mixed emotions about what has happened and what the future may bring. Remember you did your best during lockdown and no two families’ experiences will be the same. As a family you may wish to have special evening to mark the end of lockdown and the start of school.  Talk and reflect on both the hardship and the unexpected joys that have occurred over the last few months. And remember this pandemic will come to an end and life as we knew it before will resume.

 

Looking after your children

For the most part, children will need what they’ve always needed; love, attention and opportunities to learn and play.  If children are home for long periods, the following tips might be helpful:

  • Try and keep to a structure and routine that suits you.  Keep bedtime and morning routines close to existing ones to promote a sense of normality that children will find reassuring. Encouraging them to get up and dressed during the week will help maintain some difference between weekdays and weekends. 
  • Make sure they get some time to burn off energy every day.  Younger children will enjoy assault courses, discos etc.  Older children and teens might respond better to fitness videos.
  • Keep boundaries firm and make it clear that you expect the same standards of behaviour as usual.  Boundaries show that adults are still in control and taking care of them, which helps children to feel safe.
  • Find opportunities for them to interact with their friends remotely.  For tweens and teens, contact with their peers is especially important.  Technology provides lots of opportunities for older children to connect, chat and game together.  But be wary of giving unsupervised access to platforms that you would not normally allow your child onto; the internet still poses the same risks as in normal times.
  • Give children opportunities to have a say in what will be happening.  They may have had a lot of their freedoms and choices removed for a while and may feel powerless or angry.  Older children and teenagers will be more able to understand the risks in too much screen time, too little sleep, inactivity etc.  They are more likely to ‘buy in’ to new rules and routines if they feel that they have a voice.  Family meetings where children and adults problem-solve together can be helpful for this. Are you ready for Family Meetings? from Bristol Child Parent Support
  • Reduce access to rolling news – It is important to keep up to date with new developments and announcements, but it can be hard to switch off from the constant stream of news from media outlets and social media. Reduce the time-spent hearing, reading or watching news – at the moment it might be overwhelming for adults and children. Try to protect children from distressing media coverage.

It’s a good idea for children to do some learning every day. This will promote a sense of normality. But don’t try to replicate a full timetable. Avoid putting too much pressure on academic work.
Some tips include:

  • Spending time together, building relationships, enjoying shared activities and reassuring children. Don’t feel pressure to replicating the school timetable.
  • Get your children to teach you something, anything! You can then model how to learn and listen. Be interested in what they are doing and willing to learn from them.
  • Have a regular routine. Think about making, with your child, a visual timetable with pictures.
  • Balance screen time with other activities.  Challenge children to learn new skills that don’t involve screens e.g. tying shoe laces, juggling, baking.  Older children might want to set their own goals.
  • Ensure children and young people have movement breaks and stay hydrated.
  • Give children and young people a boundary between work and home by keeping work in one place so it doesn’t spread out. Or signal the end of work, by putting it away and doing an enjoyable activity, e.g. sharing a favourite song or dance!
  • Start every day like it’s a new day!

Looking after your children – returning school

Emerging from lock-down will be different for every child and family. We will have to go through another adjustment process as things gradually shift, and change again. It can be helpful for those looking after children to expect, and accept, a wide range of emotional responses, so that when they do express sadness, worry, joy, excitement or grief (or maybe a combination of all these before breakfast time), we are prepared.

A sense of safety

Reassure children that it is your job and their teachers’ job to keep them safe and that everyone is working very hard at this. Reinforce the measures put in place in school (washing hands, not sharing resources) and explain how this will help keep them safe. Families may have established a safe cocoon at home and leaving this to go to school may be anxiety provoking and some children will naturally want to stay close to the safety net of home. Acknowledging their feelings and planning something to make you feel connected during the day (such as a ‘hug button’) can help.  

A sense of calm

It can be tempting to try and ‘fix’ children’s difficult feeling such as anxiety (perhaps by saying ‘at least...’), but often just listening and validating can be enough. Modelling being ok with expressing sadness about the desperately sad things happening in the world as well as celebrating happy moments is helpful for everyone. Play of all kinds helps children to work through worries and releases feel-good hormones. Mindfulness apps such as ‘smiling minds’ can be helpful in calming busy thoughts.

Social connectedness

Younger children may be finding it more difficult to engage with video-calls with friends and family: giving them something to do with their hands (colouring, Lego) can take the pressure off. Older children may have taken to on-line interactions more naturally but this age group may be finding it more difficult to be away from friends as these relationships are so important to them.

A sense of self and collective self-efficacy

‘Comparison is the thief of joy’ so focus on the incredible resourcefulness and resilience you and the children in your life have shown in getting through this time, however you have got through it.  Older children may find it interesting to think about how this period of time will be written about in history books of the future, and recording their own unique account of this time (digitally, pictorially, or to go in a time capsule).  Younger children may find sticking a collage of photos and pictures a useful way of making sense of this time in their own individual way.

Promoting hope

Promoting a sense of hope and excitement for the future is important, as identifying things which they can look forward to will help children realise that the current situation will not last forever. Children may like to write down things (such as go to the pool, go to the park, see Nan) and pop them in a jar to dip into once restrictions ease. Joking about small, but important moments, which children can look forward to (such as ‘I even miss making packed lunch!’). Older children may like to talk about possible positive changes, which may come out of this difficult period, such as on the climate and in the ways in which we treat one another.

Talking to children about returning to school

These tips will help you talk about ‘returning to school’ with your child:

  • You and your child may have experienced losses in your family or community due to the covid-19 infection or as an indirect result of a disruption to health services. There may also be increased pressures as a result of the economic impact of the infection. Ask the school what mental health and well-being support will be made available to your child and how they can access this.
  • You may have concerns about the risks of your child returning to school on older or vulnerable family members, if this is the case, ask for a one to one meeting with the school to share these concerns and seek reassurance that they have been considered in the return to school planning.
  • You may be concerned about increased vulnerability because your child is Black, Asian or from a minority ethnic (BAME) background. Contact your child’s school to ask them about what risk assessments they have undertaken in terms of children from BAME backgrounds.
  • You may be concerned that your child will have fallen behind with their learning and there may be a variety of reasons for this. Do ask the school what catch-up support they are able to put into place.
  • Give your child lots of opportunities to talk about their feelings. Ask them specifically what they are worried about and don’t assume you know. You may be surprised by what they say as this could be very different to what you think they might be worried about. What is happening is still not normal, even though children are returning to school, but it is normal to be experiencing a range of feelings, for example, excitement, relief, joy, sadness, worry and anger at this time.
  • If your child is anxious about getting coronavirus remind them that children are the least likely out of everyone to get it and that the possibility of them getting it is highly unlikely.

Changes to the school environment

The physical environment will look/feel different for your child when s/he returns as schools are being asked to reduce each child’s number of close physical contacts as far as possible. 

  • Give positive messages about everything that the school is doing to keep everyone safe, healthy and well.  Talk to your child about what to expect during the school day, for example arriving at and leaving school, classroom organisation, use of corridors (e.g. one-way systems), lunchtime arrangements and use of the playground.  Speak to your child’s school if you need visual supports, for example photographs or film clips of changes to the physical organisation of the school.
  • Reassure your child that their own risk of catching Coronavirus is very low, but we need to continue to take care as the virus (like other germs) can spread between people and make them ill.  Talk about any new rules that your child will need to follow at school, and underline how helpful they are being by following the rules about hygiene and social-distancing.
  • If your child has special or additional needs s/he may find the return to school more challenging.  Good home school communication will be important at this time.  It will really help if the ‘return to school’ can be collaboratively planned to determine how this will work best for your child.

Managing transitions

Early Years

  • Very young children may not be able to talk about their feelings and may communicate this through their behaviour.  Be watchful for changes in behaviour that may indicate anxiety, stress or frustration.
  • Play with your child whenever possible; it so good for overall wellbeing.
  • Explicitly teach routines that are about hygiene and infection control.
  • Ask the early years’ setting or school (Reception class) for visual materials (e.g. storybooks, visual timetables, pictures of key staff) to support conversations with your child about their transition.
  • Keep communicating with key staff from the early years’ setting/school about how your child is coping.

Transition to Secondary School

  • Talk with your child about their concerns and what they are looking forward to.
  • Encourage socially distanced catch ups (or virtual socials) with peers within your child’s friendship group who are going to the same secondary school.
  • Support your child to engage with any virtual transition activities offered by secondary schools to support new intakes.  Ask the secondary school for any information that might be available (e.g. virtual tours, photos of the school, photos of key staff, maps of school site, information about first week in school) that you can share and talk to your child about.
  • Ensure that your child knows where they can seek advice or support from within school, for example, form tutor, support staff, counsellors, and school nurse.

Talking to children about Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Although it’s tempting to try and protect children from difficult topics, they are more likely to worry when they’re kept in the dark.  Children and teenagers will be aware of what is happening but may not have all the facts they need to understand it. 
These tips will help you communicate about Coronavirus with your child:

  • Take time to talk and listen.  Be clear that you are happy to answer any questions that they have.  Be led by your child as they may not be that interested or want to know everything all at once.  Try to answer any questions honestly but keep things in context e.g. “Sadly, some people do die, but the vast majority of people will recover, and children seem to be only mildly affected”.
  • Reassure them that their own risk is very low but that we all need to ‘do our bit’ to look after people who might be very unwell. Underline how helpful they are being by following the rules about hygiene and social-distancing.  Knowing we’re being altruistic helps us to bear the tough times.
  • Give positive messages about everything you are doing as a family to keep yourselves safe.  Talk about all the work people around the world are doing to find treatments and a vaccine. 
  • Keep explanations developmentally appropriate. 
    • Young children up to about age seven will need very simple explanations that relate to their own experiences.  Explain that, like other germs, Coronavirus can spread between people and make them ill.  But because Coronavirus is a new germ that we don’t know everything about, we need to take more care and so things might be a bit different for a while.
    • Older children and tweens will want to know more.  They may have heard partial explanations and ‘filled in the gaps’ themselves with their own ideas, so check what they already think they know about it.
    • Teenagers will have a similar capacity to understand what’s going on as adults.  They will need calm, factual information and opportunities to talk through their worries and disappointments.
  • Give them an opportunity to talk about their feelings.  Our instinct might be to ‘make it all better’, but it is normal to feel scared, sad and angry in the face of what’s happening.  Tell them that what is happening is not normal but that their feelings are.

Helpful resources for talking to children about Coronavirus

 

Social Stories and Visually Supported information

  • For Social Stories to help children and young people understand the current pandemic, parents and carers may find it helpful to visit Carol Gray Social Stories. There is a link to Carol’s club on this page which is currently free to join, and they have a covid-19 section.
  • Families and carers of children and young people with autism and a range of SEN and disability on the MENCAP site- which includes easy to read information.
  • Speaking Space website is a useful source of resources for a range of needs relating to communication. They have a section devoted to materials about the coronavirus including the use of video and picture symbols.
  • Widgit (a major provider of symbols used to support communication in school, homes and a wide range settings) are currently offering a 21 day free trial and free online resources available to support parents at home.

Information with an SEN and Disability focus

  • The Council for Disabled Children have a lots of resources for families
  • Contact (for families of disabled children) have information and resources that  include a downloadable hospital passport, should someone with communication difficulties require treatment
  •  CHUMS is a mental health and wellbeing service for children and young people
  • Talking Takes Off have resources and links available to support families developing communication skills
  • All Luton parents and carers are able to access free online courses at www.inourplace.co.uk using access code HATTERS and their Luton postcode.  These are evidence based courses which replicate the suite of Solihull Approach face to face parenting courses developed since the late 1990s. 
  • SENS SLCN return and recovery advice, the SLCN team (part of the Special Educational Needs Service) have written advice to support schools 

Information with an autism focus

  • The National Autistic Society is a trusted national charity. They have a coronavirus hub page gathering information
  • Autism Bedfordshire is our local charity for families affected by autism. They have a page of resources, including information on emergency grants
  • Return & Recovery Autism Checklist. The autism spectrum team (part of the Special Education Needs Service) have put together a checklist to help our colleagues in schools and settings consider the needs of pupils on the autism spectrum or social communication difficulties as schools start to re-open. The document contains embedded resources and links to sources of additional help.

Sources of support - for young people

Childline

Free and Confidential Help for Young People in the UK. Call 0800 1111 anytime for help & advice about a wide range of issues.


Calmzone from childline

A toolbox of activities such as breathing exercises, coping videos, yoga videos and games that can help children feel calm in a period of disruption.


Self-care strategies - the Anna Freud Centre

A selection of self-care strategies that have been developed by young people to help manage their own wellbeing. During a time when access to regular appointments may be disrupted or anxiety might be heightened, it might be helpful to try one or some of these strategies.


Young Minds

UK charity providing advice and guidance on children and young people's mental health. Young Minds website.

 

Sources of support - for parents and carers

Luton Youth & Families Covid-19 Response Group

The aim of the partnership is to provide young people, parents and school staff with a quick and easy way to access voluntary sector support from their own homes. The group currently comprises of Autism Bedfordshire, Families United Network, Level Trust, Luton Council, Stepping Stones, Luton Food Bank, Tokko Youth Centre and Youthscape.

How to access support

Parents, young people and school staff can stay in touch with us by simply filling in our online form  or by connecting with us over twitter or instagram on LutonYFCRG.

Anyone who completes a form will be triaged by a central team. The team will assess which organisation they think is best equipped to provide support and will pass this on to them.


Luton Council

Latest cronavirus updates and guidance. National and local updates, school closures, what to do if you have symptoms and more.


Luton Foodbank

Access vouchers via referral from Luton Council Crisis Support: Freephone 0800 4561673 (Mon-Fri, 9am-5.30pm).


Every Mind Matters

NHS advice about how to look after your mental wellbeing while staying at home.


Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH)

Protecting vulnerable children is everyone’s business, and we all need to be alert, to know what to look out for and where to go for advice, as well as having the confidence to report any acts of abuse safe in the knowledge that they will be acted on. If you are concerned about the welfare of a child (0 to 18 years old) please call the MASH on 01582 547653. The number to call for out of normal working hours emergencies is 0300 300 8123.


Luton Child & Educational Psychology Service

Child and educational psychologists who work with children, young people, families, schools and community organisations to support the social, emotional wellbeing/mental health and learning of children and young people. Telephone consultation service open during the Coronavirus pandemic to parents, carers: 01582 548150, Monday to Friday, 10am-12noon.


Stepping Stones

Stepping Stones is a Luton based charity dedicated to empowering women who have suffered from domestic abuse or are vulnerable due to substance misuse by providing hope, skills and the resources to make positive life choices. They offer group and 121 based emotional and practical support and information, alongside specialist counselling and legal advice provided by volunteers.


National Domestic Abuse Helpline

The freephone, 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline 0808 2000 247


Domestic Violence Assist

The UK's only registered charity arranging Non-Molestation Orders, Prohibited Steps Orders & Occupation Orders. Call Free on 0800 195 8699


Men’s advice line

Domestic abuse affects men too. Telephone: 0808 8010327


National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline

Telephone: 0800 999 5428


Samaritans


Mind UK

UK Mental Health Charity with information and an online mutual support community

Sources of support - parenting pressures

Family Action

  • Telephone: 0808 802 6666
  • Text message: 07537 404 282

The FamilyLine service supports people who are dealing with family pressures in a new and innovative way by using a network of volunteers from across the country to support family members over the age of 18 through telephone calls, email, web chat and text message.


Family Lives (previously Parentline)

  • Call: 0808 800 2222

Family Lives offers a confidential and free helpline service for families in England and Wales (previously known as Parentline) for emotional support, information, advice and guidance on any aspect of parenting and family life. The helpline service is open 9am – 9pm, Monday to Friday and 10am – 3pm Saturday and Sunday.


Gingerbread

  • Single Parent Helpline: 0808 802 0925

One Parent Families/Gingerbread is the leading national charity working to help lone parents and their children.


Grandparents Plus

  • Call: 0300 123 7015

Grandparents Plus is the only national charity (England and Wales) dedicated to supporting kinship carers - grandparents and other relatives raising children who aren't able to live with their parents.