Dr. Amanda Gummer is a child psychologist, parenting expert and is passionate about play for wellbeing. She’s founder of The Good Play Guide, home of the Good Toy Guide – a resource for independent and expert advice on toys, games and apps to encourage a healthy, balanced play diet for your child.
A regular in the media Amanda is also author of PLAY: Fun Ways to help your child develop in the first five years.
Our mental health is just as important as our physical health and we should make time to care for it every day. As a parent however, that’s often easier said than done. The good news is that some small changes can help boost your whole family’s well being.
COVID-19 & Mental Health
The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns have a huge impact on everyone’s mental health. Many people have faced the challenge of “extreme parenting” as they have juggled working from home, financial worries, remote learning, keeping children entertained, as well as fears about their family getting ill. Parents of under 10’s said they were especially stressed during the first lockdown and around a third (36%) were substantially worried about their children's behaviour at that time (University of Oxford, 2021). Children’s mental health has also been affected, with one in six (16.0%) in 2020 aged five to 16 years identified as having a probable mental disorder (NHS Digital, 2020). This is a big increase since 2017, from one in nine children (10.8%).
If you’ve noticed the impact of COVID-19 on your own and your children’s mental health, here are a few tips to help you improve your family’s well being:
1. Care For Yourself First
If we get a cold, we eat chicken soup and rest up in bed. When we’re struggling with our mental health, we also need to take some time for self care. This is as important for your child as it is for you. You are your child’s most important role model so they will copy what they see you do. By seeing you manage your wellbeing and take a break when you need to, your child is more likely to do the same for themselves. Being a happier, relaxed parent also means you will be better equipped to take care of your children’s needs. You can do this by:
- Asking other people for help, for example, support with childcare
- Giving your child space to play and learn independently
- Getting everyone in the family to pitch in with household chores (try not to worry about them being done perfectly!)
Find out more about parent-centred parenting.
2. Encourage Learning Through Play
Nearly half (45%) of parents have worried about their children’s future during the pandemic (University of Oxford, 2021). Hope for the future is an important part of our wellbeing, so it’s important to address this. Many parents have worried about their children falling behind in school due to remote learning and disruption to the school routine, so helping support their education may help you feel more confident that your child can catch up.
Learning through play is a great way to help your child practise key topics with less pressure. There are lots of educational toys and games available to support your child’s learning in English, Maths, Science and other subjects on GoodToyGuide.com. As well as giving you more confidence that your child will succeed in school, it can help your child be less worried about school, supporting their wellbeing.
3. Build Your Child’s Resilience
Growing your child’s resilience can help them manage their emotions and also means they will be better able to cope with future challenges, such as starting secondary school. Emotional intelligence can help support this so take opportunities to teach your children about naming and recognising different emotions, focusing on the idea that emotions are always changing. This means that they can understand that a negative emotion doesn’t last forever and can be improved with certain techniques, such as using breathing exercises to calm down when angry or anxious.
I can recommend The Book of Beasties: The Mental Wellness Card Game (£40.00, 6+ years, available on GoodToyGuide.com) to help with these discussions. This introduces children to mental health through gameplay, activities, creative and physical exercises. For example one of our testers, a boy aged seven, said while playing the game: “Everyone gets foggy brains sometimes, yes I do. When my brain gets foggy I can’t tell you what’s wrong.” This helps start a discussion about how children feel and when, and work on their skills to handle these emotions.
In the same way that we get a balanced diet to get good nutrition, we can support good mental health by balancing the activities that we do every day. The Balanced Play Pyramid recommends that children get a mix of different play activities to support healthy development, including resilience. For example, plenty of outdoor play encourages children to take risks, helping to build their confidence; competitive games gives them a chance to experience winning and losing; and pretend play allows them to process their thoughts and feelings.
This also includes limiting screen time, which is important for the whole family. Try to take time when you all put your screens away, such as regular family mealtimes. This gives you the chance to talk and give one another emotional support, helping everyone’s wellbeing.
It’s really important to care for our mental health just as we do our physical health. By taking care of your own needs, you can be better equipped to support your child while being a good role model for them to copy from. Supporting your children with educational play, teaching them about emotions, and helping build their resilience, you can also help improve their wellbeing now and in the future.