Every child’s mental health matters: Helpful tips

In these uncertain times, UNICEF South Africa is taking the mental health of children seriously. Read how we can help ensure their mental wellbeing.

Fundraising team
happy-child
© UNICEF/UN0318726/Diarassouba
26 June 2020

As the world continues to navigate these uncertain times, mental health matters have come into the spotlight. In the midst of social distancing, lockdown, and a global pandemic, anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges are a very real concern. UNICEF South Africa focuses this concern on children, who often do not have the voice or the space to articulate their struggles. 

For many children, these are strange and scary times, particularly as they absorb what they see on their screens, the emotional temperature of their immediate environment, and the abrupt changes happening in their world.

UNICEF South Africa recognises the daily fears that children are facing, which is why we are providing information and resources to equip families and children in these challenging and unsteady times.

These tips will help parents, caregivers, and communities to take proactive steps towards caring for children’s mental wellbeing.

Tip #1: Start discussions

Relaxed conversations with your child are a wonderful way of gauging their understanding of the world around them. Start with simple, open questions - such as how they are feeling about wearing masks to school, asking them about family members who they haven’t seen in a while, or finding out why they think there are social distancing practices in public spaces. Observe their body language and how they express themselves through play, drawing, daily journals, or other fun techniques. This will give you the opportunity to address their fears and have honest, age-appropriate discussions. 

Communicate reliable, factual information with them - sourced from the UNICEF South Africa website among others  - so that they do not become alarmed by sensationalized news. Incorporating fun videos, like this Wiggles handwashing song, is a great way to teach them how to take care of themselves, while helping them feel more equipped and in control. Always establish yourself as a safe space where they can come with their questions or fears.

parent-and-child-with-laptop
UNICEF/UNI313417/McIlwaine

Tip #2: Establish routines

Now that the daily normal has been turned upside down, it is vital that children are provided with a structured daily routine. This is essential for their mental health and overall sense of stability. If you are at home, consider incorporating them into your daily routine – giving them a sense of ownership and purpose. By introducing stimulating and regular elements of learning, play, and relaxation into their day-to-day activities, they will settle into a calm, safe, and reliable environment - helping them manage the sudden changes to their world, like not seeing their friends or having their desks separated at school. (Have a look at our resources for home learning.)

Tip #3: Create distractions

When anxiety threatens to disturb a child’s sense of calm, create a positive distraction by keeping their minds and hands occupied. Kicking a ball, building a puzzle, baking, or giving them a book to read or a new project to work on (a small garden or a new dance routine) are just some fun family activities and healthy distractions. Consider limiting screen time, as this can feed anxiety. 

In collaboration with UNICEF, YouTube yoga sensation Adriene Mishler (from Yoga With Adriene) has created a fun yoga playlist aimed at children, titled Reimagine. These all-age, at-home yoga practices are great to incorporate into your family’s daily schedule and are a lighthearted, healthy way to bring emotional, physical, and mental balance into your child’s life.

With these structures in place, we can join hands together to establish better mental health for children.

father-playing-with-children-at-home
UNICEF South Africa/2019/Sokol

UNICEF South Africa’s mandate is to be there for every child – and to be there for every aspect of their life. This includes mental health. This is why we are providing resources to support children and families during these uncertain times. Visit UNICEF Global’s website for comprehensive material to support every aspect of your child’s development, including how to talk to your child about coronavirus and how teenagers can protect their mental health during coronavirus.

A child’s environment plays a significant role in impacting all aspects of his/her holistic growth and development. They need you to be proactive in making that environment as safe as possible for them.  

UNICEF South Africa is committed to creating a better future for all children. Find out how we have been involved in providing relief in vulnerable communities across South Africa during these challenging times – particularly through our Little Hands Matter and Buckets Of Care campaigns.

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