Emotional well-being is so important for children and families and it’s something that we all need to work on throughout our lives. The families we support are almost always in crisis or have experienced trauma, and it can be difficult to know how to help.
Many parents are worried about the immediate and long term impact on all of their children and don’t know how to bring up difficult subjects without upsetting them further.
Our advice to you is as follows:
Let them play. Play is a child’s way to work through issues and things that are upsetting them. Watch carefully, but don’t intervene unless they invite you to join in or they are harming themselves or are in danger.
Listen: If your child talks to you, stop what you are doing and listen. They might be telling you about MineCraft, but if you listen to that and engage in conversation, they may feel more comfortable to talk about other things with you.
Be appropriately honest with your child. This can be tricky, especially when big, difficult questions are fired at you unexpectedly. Tell them what you think they can cope with; you are their parent and you know them best. Don’t use them as a person to offload your worries onto, that is the role for another adult or professional. It’s ok, to say “I don’t know”, or “let me think and I will get back to you,” (make sure you do), and its ok to admit that you are feeling angry or sad or worried. Reassure your child as much as you can and keep to routines and normal family life when you can, with things like bedtime stories and meal times together.
The power of positive touch. Lots of hugs and reassuring positive touch can go a long way in supporting your children. Snuggle up with them at bed time, read stories, watch films wrapped in blankets on the sofa, stroke their hair, paint their nails and just be present when you can. You can also use activities like story massage, or baby massage, this can help with reassurance, attachment and relaxation.
Accept help. It is important that you look after yourself as well. If people offer to help by cooking meals, cleaning your house, taking the kids out for the day or by giving you a listening ear, let them. Try to make some space for you in this incredibly difficult time. Also, we highly recommend seeking support for the whole family through professional counselling, yoga, massage therapies and general self-care.
This is just a small selection of ways in which you can care for yourself and your family, there are lots of links here for charities and organisations who may be able to offer more advice and support.
Below are some activities that you might like to use at home with your children to encourage them to talk about their worries and develop coping strategies. There are also some helpful stories here.
Positive Hand Prints
Often, a good place to gain an understanding of how your child is feeling is by asking them to talk about things they enjoy and the things they feel they are good at.
This is an activity for children and adults and it can be trickier than it looks! It may be helpful to do this activity alongside your child so that you can offer support and ideas and they can do the same for you. If your child finds it hard to think of 10 things, ask them to think of 6 and they can add the rest at a later date.
The first activity is to draw around your hands. On one hand, write 5 things you are good at, and on the other 5 positive characteristics of yourself. This is the bit that is hardest!
Decorate the hand prints in any way you like. Then select 6 or 7 of those attributes and choose different paint colours to correspond with each trait, for example, green could represent kindness, red could represent creativity.
Squirt stripes of each colour paint onto a dry sponge. When you have all of your colours, drag the sponge across some paper to make a rainbow of all of your positive traits!
If you don’t have paints you could draw or collage a rainbow. Display your pictures at home to remind yourself of all of the positive things about you and your family.
My Story Comic Strip
This is an activity that invites children to talk about a specific ‘story’ that has happened in their life. We ask them to draw out what happened, maybe write an explanation sentence beneath and retell their story from their point of view.
This can offer a fascinating incite into how your child experienced a particular event. Children do not process pain and grief in the same way as an adult, and so their worries and concerns might be very different to yours.
You can download and print a blank comic strip by clicking on the PDF file, or make your own.
When we use this activity in group sessions we keep it very open and invite children to talk about any part of their life story. Some chose to write about a traumatic event, some chose to write about a happier time and some create their story with fictional characters. All of this tells us a lot about whether a child is willing to talk about a specific event or not. We never push them to talk about things that they are not ready for.
Again, it can be helpful if you do this activity along side your child so that you have the same experience and you can support and encourage each other. Make sure that the story you tell is one that is appropriate for your child and one that you are able to talk about.
If you have a particularly creative child, you could also suggest that they make an art journal. A little diary that they can paint and draw in every day about how they are feeling and things that have happened.
We recommend that children only put in things that they would be happy to share with an adult. If your child talks to you about things they are worried about, don’t forget to listen and take them seriously. If they tell you things that are concerning, seek help from an appropriate professional.
Managing Anxiety Countdown
Have you or your child ever felt completely overwhelmed? Unable to think straight, irritable, anxious, tearful, with a mind that is racing with thoughts about far fetched scenarios that ‘might happen’? I know I have definitely felt like this at times, especially in times when I have felt out of control.
This is an exercise that has really helped to bring me and my overactive mind right back into the present moment, which is only place that we can really have any effect on what is happening.
When you start to feel out of control, take a moment to stop what you are doing. Start to notice each of your senses and in your mind list:
5 things you can see
4 things you can hear
3 things you can touch or feel (your toes in your socks, breeze on your face).
2 things you can smell
1 thing you can taste
This works really well if you are also outside, but is good to use indoors too.
With your children, you could turn it into a game and ask them to tell you or draw the things they can feel. Or you could do it like a meditation with them with some calming music and a snuggly blanket, however it works for you.
Bubbles are often included in our Feel Better Boxes. Here’s why:
Bubbles are a seemingly everyday activity that you can carry around in your bag and use wherever you need to. Not only are bubbles great fun, but they can also help children who are feeling anxious, to control their breathing.
Find a calm time to blow bubbles with your child, have fun and make those happy memories. The breathing required to blow bubbles is the same technique that is used to calm breathing in people who suffer with anxiety, so this is a great way to practise.
This type of deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which puts us in a restful state rather than a panicked fight or flight state.
If you and your child later find yourselves in a situation where you might be starting to feel anxious, you can blow bubbles together, either real or imaginary, to calm your breathing. Recalling the happy memories of other times you did the activity can help you both to relax further.
Need more support?
If you are concerned about your or your child's mental health and well being, visit our useful links page by clicking here.