There is much that each one of us can do to support the wellbeing of those in our lives
We don't know whether the coronavirus situation will impact on children and young people's mental health, but we think that it may.
We want to do all we can to prevent this from happening, or to minimise it. That's why we are giving this clear, simple advice to all those who are supporting children and young people - including to young people themselves.
There is much that each one of us can do to support the wellbeing of those in our lives, including children and young people who may already be vulnerable or suffering from mental health difficulties.
Further information (click on the question for answer)
- I’m a young person who suffers from anxiety anyway, but I’m now feeling really worried about coronavirus. What advice can you give me?
Most of us are feeling concerned about the uncertainty of the current situation, and this will include young people. That is completely understandable.
It’s important that all of us to look to the people we trust to support us. For you, this might include your family members or carers, your trusted friends, and perhaps your teachers if you are able to contact them. Reach out to them to help you make sense of things - be open if you have fears and seek answers. Your questions may be specific and feel trivial, but that’s fine. If face-to-face contact is not always an option, find other ways to connect with people, including using technology.
There is lots of information available at present, but some of it comes from more trusted sources than others. Finding your way through this with someone you trust can help you to feel more on top of things. Watching the news and spending time on social media may help to an extent (and particularly if social media helps you to connect with those who are important to you). But focusing on the continuous flow of information about coronavirus may be unhelpful, and may have the negative effect of making people more anxious. Stepping away from it at times makes sense for us all.
Young people are often fantastic sources of help to each other, and you may turn to your friends for support – as well as being able to offer your own support to others. Looking after each other, being kind to those around us, can certainly help us to feel better in an unknown situation. But also be mindful that some people may speak in a way which alarms others unnecessarily, so ‘protect’ yourself where you can from conversations which you sense are not helpful to you and others.
You may feel that your own mental health is being affected, and perhaps you already have mental health difficulties or are receiving treatment. Talk to those you trust, it’s really important to us as human beings that someone else understands how we feel. Even when life is disrupted, stick to your routines where possible, stay in touch with your close friends, and keep trying to do what you enjoy. All these things help give us a balanced sense of how we’re feeling in ourselves. Perhaps ask your parents or carers to help you with this.
If there is a gap in your treatment, or it’s disrupted in another way, talk to your parent or carer about what you’re finding difficult and what could help you to feel better. This may be something practical, like making a call to a friend or listening to music. Ensure that a bit of this happens each day. It won’t be a solution, but it may well help you through this time.
There is lots of advice on On My Mind, our website for young people written with young people. This includes our self-care resource which has over 90 simple strategies that young people have told us help them when they are feeling low or anxious. There is also an urgent help page with a list of organisations that offer 24 hour support via text, phone and email.
Download the PDF on advice for young people worried about coronavirus.
- As a parent/carer, how can I reassure my child if they have heightened anxiety about issues in the news including coronavirus - while also being honest with them?
Many parents and carers are concerned about how their children, whatever their age, are feeling at present. It is understandable that children and young people may be feeling anxious and upset.
The support provided by our families, and those networks around us, is something we all value. Taking time to listen to each other’s concerns – which may be similar or different to our own – is particularly key in relation to children and young people, who may feel overwhelmed by a complex and changing situation which isn’t being clearly explained for their perspective. Be curious about what’s on their mind, so they feel able to speak to you in their own time and in their own way.
If you are the parent or carer of a baby or toddler, you may think they won’t be affected by current concern about the coronavirus - or indeed other events of national importance. A younger child may find it hard to tell you what is going through their mind, but you may notice that they repeatedly play or draw about the event to let you know they’re thinking about it.
We know that babies and toddlers pick up on how we are feeling, and that the anxiety which a parent is feeling could have an impact on them. Try to be aware of this in how you behave around them. A baby or toddler may well sense a change in your mood, or if you are distracted and therefore less attentive towards them. Reassure them in your actions and through the affection you show towards them. Younger children feel safer when their world is predictable and familiar, so keeping things as normal as possible and maintaining their usual routines can be extremely helpful.
If you are the parent or carer of a child, they will also pick up on how you are feeling - both in the way you talk openly (or don’t) about worrying issues and in the way you behave. If they see you visibly worried or alarmed, this may prompt them to feel the same. Where possible, try to reassure your child, while also being open so they trust you to be honest with them. Though it may not always be easy, when parents and carers deal with a situation calmly they can provide the best support for children.
There are practical things you can do. Pay close attention to your child’s individual worries, whenever they choose to express them. These might seem trivial, but the change to routine itself (e.g. plans for the weekend being cancelled) may be what unsettles them. Concerns for the health of an elderly grandparent are understandable, and reassurance around what practical steps are being taken to keep people healthy can help. Of course, hand washing is something which children need to see their parents and carers doing, and this can be done as a shared activity.
Watching trusted news sources will play a part in helping children to feel informed and aware of the situation (for instance www.bbc.co.uk/newsround, including their advice on coronavirus). But if this starts to dominate, particularly via social media, it may well be unhelpful to a child who is trying to understand a complex situation. The same applies to children seeing the adults around them constantly watching the news, with normal family life being put ‘on hold’. This can in itself create alarm.
If you are the parent or carer of a teenager, the above also applies. We know that, in their teenage years, young people can distance themselves from their parents and look more to their peers for support. This can be enormously important as they begin to navigate the world independently. Encourage them to keep looking to these trusted friendships. But also, be mindful that looking to peer support alone can create a pressure on young people to ‘have all the answers’, including sifting inaccurate news which may reach them via social media and elsewhere.
The support of trusted adults will also play a key role at times of uncertainty. As the parent of a teenager, it may be difficult to know just how worried they really are. They may be just waiting for an opportunity to share their worries, so don’t assume they won’t want to talk to you. Sometimes, talking can be easier through a shared activity like walking the dog or baking a cake – which is also important in reinforcing that we can continue to do the things we’ve always done and which we enjoy.
Most of all, keep connecting with your child. Do this in different ways, as this in itself will help you both to work out how you can provide support. Make it clear you are there for them. Stay in touch with how they’re feeling. It’s not helpful for children and young people to be anxious all the time, so be alert to this and to them possibly needing more support from you if this becomes the case.
Finally, as a parent or carer, look after your own mental health too. This will enable you to best support yourself and those you care about.
Download the PDF on advice for parents and carers on reassuring children about coronavirus.
- What top tips would you give to families about how they can work together at this time?
Families play a hugely important part in supporting each other at times of uncertainty or concern. Be alert to how each other is feeling. You might show your worry in different ways to one another – so, if one of you is not feeling worried right now, that’s fine too. With changes to daily and weekly routines, keep sight of what family life feels like and what you can continue to do. These can be the things which make life feel ‘normal’, so they’re important.
You will probably be spending more time together because of home working, school closures, and other public health measures. Keep your days varied. Think about how you can make the most of the space you live in. If possible, work together to organise your days – perhaps via a family timetable (attached to the fridge door!). It may help to create time slots for mealtimes, homework, friends (even if via social media), TV, exercise, etc., and do make sure you all maintain good sleep habits. This routine can shape family life. But remember to be realistic about what you can achieve and don’t put added pressure on yourselves.
Children’s emotions, including anxiety, are well regulated by the structure in their lives. Try and create consistency, even in unpredictable circumstances. With young children (aged 3-7), playing together may be your best way of identifying what their concerns are. Often, what they play is what they are thinking about. You could introduce a playful element into these discussions, and making other children (or even pets) the focus may make it easier for your child to share what worries them.
With older children, openly talking may help bring worries to the surface. Worries are important to label and, where possible, to normalise. Sharing your own worries may be helpful, as long as you are also clear about how you manage your feelings. For example, if distracting yourself helps you, then it is also likely to help your child. But be aware that something you find distracting (e.g. reading) may not be so helpful to them.
Living with anxiety over a period of time can impact on the wellbeing of us all. Explore ways in which you – as individuals but also as a family group – can take care of yourselves. Think about what you have as self-care strategies, and how you can use these. Obvious examples are taking exercise, watching a film, listening to music, and enjoying a meal together. But also remember the ones which are special to you as a family.
Take advantage of being together, but also make sure you have time of your own. Maintaining our routines, so the world has its familiar things as well as its uncertainties right now, feels helpful to us all.
Download the PDF with top tips on how families can work together and support one another during coronavirus.
- As a professional working with children and young people in a school, youth group or other setting, how can I provide support?
Services working with children and young people are well aware of the uncertainty which communities are facing, and the impact this could have on mental health. There are ways in which you can provide key support in your own setting in the midst of changing times. When external events are creating a sense of anxiety, trusted professionals can be seen as vital sources of support for both children and their families – even if contact is digital or over the phone.
Adults have the opportunity to model positive behaviour which gives reassurance to children, enabling them to better understand the situation and what they can do to look after themselves. So, as a teacher or youth worker, staying calm and thoughtful is important. If you are sharing information about coronavirus - or indeed any other issue of wider concern – use materials from trusted sources and with sensitivity to the appropriate level of detail for the age of the child or young person.
If you’re supporting a child who is already vulnerable, they could be experiencing unmanageable increases in their anxiety levels. In your role, you may be well placed to spot this. Be ready to talk about whom they can turn to within your service (e.g. a counsellor, or a pastoral lead within a school), and externally within your wider community, as well as which kinds of support can be accessed remotely. Openly sharing this information will make it available to all, not just those who come to you for help. Alongside this, do encourage young people to identify their own self-care strategies – see www.annafreud.org/onmymind for ideas from young people themselves.
If you’re working with children who have existing mental health difficulties, they may find the current situation particularly difficult. Talk to them about what in particular they’re worried about - it may be different to adult concerns, and they need to know that’s fine. Where they are expressing this to a greater degree and clearly need extra support, find new ways of working jointly with the child, their parents or carers, and those who are close to them to agree together how best to help them.
The young person may be concerned about any disruption to the treatment they are receiving from mental health professionals, or disruption may already have occurred. If so, be as clear as possible about how support will continue even if there are changes to it. If they are worried about what will happen if they or those close to them become ill, talk openly about this too. Reassure them that this is something we will manage together, exploring options and responding to the needs of those we care about.
Download the PDF with advice for professionals working with children and young people during coronavirus.
- What other trusted sources of information or advice you would recommend to find out more?
There is extensive information available about coronavirus, but some is more fact-based and helpful than others. You can find up-to-date NHS advice here or you can call NHS 111 if you have urgent concerns about the health of yourself or someone close to you.
Our self-care resource for On My Mind has many simple self-care activities which you can do at home. Written by young people to help other young people who are feeling low or anxious. The strategies should also be useful to adults.
Parents and carers
Download Good days in unusual times, a booklet for all children during these unusual days of coronavirus.
Mental health and the coronavirus research bite #1: Self-management strategies for young people experiencing anxiety
Many strategies have been suggested for helping with anxiety, including social support, apps, exercise, the arts, relaxation and mindfulness. Evidence suggests that online courses (e.g. computerised CBT) and various kinds of physical exercise could help young people who are feeling anxious. However, many of the self-management strategies available to young people haven’t been evaluated, or where they have, often there isn’t strong enough evidence to help us understand their effectiveness. This doesn’t mean that these strategies aren’t useful for young people who are struggling with anxiety, it mostly means they haven’t been explored enough through research. Motivation is quite important in the success of interventions so young people being able to choose strategies they enjoy might help.
Schools and colleges
Our free Supporting Schools and Colleges booklet provides advice and guidance for school and college staff about how to help children and young people manage their mental health and wellbeing during times of disruption to their learning and school and college closure.
Download Looking after each other and ourselves.
Download Supporting Staff Wellbeing in Schools booklet.
Mentally Healthy Schools features a range of quality-assured mental health and wellbeing resources for primary school staff, parents, carers and children. Visit to browse the resource library or download the latest Covid-19 toolkit.
Download 7 ways to support a child who is worried, written by Centre clinicians as best practice for responding to children's fears