How to Sustain Your Child’s Emotional Health at Home

After the recent COVID-19 visit here at the Junior School we are moving forward on all fronts, and handling things in the best possible way so that we limit the potential negative fallout for children.

I am in awe at how our amazing Junior School team has worked together to engineer a very measured, effective response to the challenges facing us. This is the result of numerous hours of vigilant, systematic planning. We were ready to pivot, as we will be for any more pivots that may be ahead of us.

While we are redoubling our efforts to keep the virus at bay, I believe we also need to redouble our efforts to sustain children’s emotional health.

The same applies to you at home. I see that so much is being expected of parents at the moment, and none of us has an instruction booklet on parenting during a pandemic.

If your child is struggling to cope with their emotions, I encourage you to ask yourself, “What do children need from us the most at present?”

Listen to their concerns

The art of listening. It seems easy but it isn’t quite so straightforward. We might not do a whole lot of it because we are frequently multi-tasking. Listen fully with your ears, eyes, mind and heart. Listen without giving advice or adding a layer of judgment. You don’t have to offer solutions. Do the research so that you find your child’s “sweet spot” when they are most likely to open their hearts.

Acknowledge feelings

You don’t have to agree with your child to acknowledge their feelings, neither do you have to rescue them from their emotions. Minimal encouragers (“aha”; “hmm”, “I see…”) let the child know you are connecting and tuned in. At the Junior School, we teach children, “All our feelings are okay. What counts is what we do and say. We have feelings, yes it’s true. We can think of what to do.” It sounds simple. If only world leaders could do the same.

Offer reassurance

Explain that we are following all the rules and are in good hands. Show your children through your words and actions that you have confidence in those making decisions on our behalf. Answer questions honestly and accurately. Give rational, developmentally appropriate information. Think about how we handle sex education and apply the same principles (i.e. keep it short, keep it simple, don’t “over-share”). When needed, help your child reframe their concerns: “Is there another way of looking at this?” or “What can you tell yourself that would make you feel better?”

Maintain structure, routine and normal expectations for behaviour

They might not thank us for doing it, but these things provide children with confidence and security. We feel bad when they can’t have play dates or participate in their usual activities. If guilt kicks in, we could be rushing to compensate in ways that may come back to bite us. Think twice if you are about to relax rules or cave to the begging and badgering for a video game you have been opposed to. I am not suggesting no changes, but think them through carefully and be aligned with your partner.

Promote green thinking

Everyone at the Junior School knows Turtle, our resident green thinking expert. Green thinking is when we look at things in a positive way. It helps us feel calmer so that we can respond rather than react. With all the gloom and doom around us, it’s all too easy to overestimate what can go wrong and underestimate what we can do about it. If they are in a negative space, ask your child, “What would Turtle suggest right now?” Model green thinking out loud for your child. When you are handling something tricky, ask them to provide you with green thoughts that would help you.

Practise gratitude

A daily practice of gratitude helps us tune into what’s good around us. We are less likely to notice all the things that are bothering us right now when we are looking for something to be grateful for. This practice leads to more optimism and greater satisfaction. In the face of heartache, gratitude has the power to heal, and in the face of despair, gratitude has the power to give hope. It’s just what we need right now.

Balance their days

Children learn about self-regulation at the Junior School and ways to stay in the “green zone” where they are happy, calm and ready to learn. Help them stay in the green zone by getting them outside, active and away from screens as much as you can. Here’s Dan Siegel’s recipe for a healthy mind and I love it. It works for adults, too!

Model calmness and composure

Your child does not need to know it, even if you think the sky is falling. We are living in such uncertain times. Children are like little sponges, picking up on the free-floating stress and anxiety that’s around but they don’t have the capacity to process it in a healthy way. For their benefit, communicate an air of, “This too shall pass,” and “We’ve got this!” It will help you, too.

Limit media exposure

Try to avoid watching news when your child is present, or having the news on when you are in the car. Not only is it not good for them, it’s not good for us either. Doomscrolling – cruising the news, checking the numbers and watching the curve – has become an all too frequent pastime. Put distance between you and your devices.

Be aware

Children take their lead from us. What you do and say about the current situation can increase or decrease your child’s anxiety. Be careful about what conversations your child may overhear or what they may read off your phone (students are telling me they are checking their parents’ phones a lot). They have big ears, and it’s all too easy for children to become misinformed and misled by pieces of adult conversation. Turn off the notifications on your phone and wait until they are asleep to discuss the tough content.

Take care of yourself

We have had a lot to deal with in the last year, often without the benefit of the usual things that keep us afloat. Chronic stress is associated with disrupted sleep, irritability, lethargy, headaches and digestive issues. Find new ways to handle your stress that are safe and healthy. My sense is that when we put our own life jackets on first – when we manage our own stress so that we are in good shape emotionally – children can cope very well indeed. In fact, they can often cope better than the grown-ups!

Practise compassion

We don’t blame someone for catching a cold, but somehow an unfortunate stigma has built up around COVID-19. Let’s challenge that notion if it appears. This disease can happen to any one of us, despite our following all the protocols. It’s really sneaky and insidious. Let’s make sure to adopt a view that it’s no one’s fault. Ask your child how they would feel if they got it? How would they like to be treated if they got it? If a person has been sick with this, what would they most like their friends to do or say?

One day at a time, we shall get through this. Please remember that if you and/or your child is having a tough time, our Personal Counselling team is here to help by either providing 1:1 service or making referrals to counsellors in the community.

We encourage you to reach out to your school counsellor if you would like to connect:


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