Social Distancing & Children’s Mental Wellbeing: Cave Dwelling


Things at the moment are unpredictable and uncertain.

This might seem small, but the word ‘lockdown’ itself may create distress, so how about calling it ‘Cave Dwelling’.

We need exceptional measures for exceptional times, but let’s keep this Cave Dwelling simple and easy to manage!

Your children are watching you and looking to see how you’re managing this, so how can we reduce their concerns?


Here are a few ways:

  • Find out their level of thinking? What are their concerns?
  • Find out what it means for your children to be safe?


Provide them with realistic reassurance.

Tell them that you’re doing everything to protect them and that this won’t last forever. Let them know that when it comes to the virus itself, it seems that children are the least affected. Reassure them that even if they do get it, you have medicines in the house and that they will be well looked after.

Tell them that you’re doing everything to protect yourself, but if you did get the virus (hopefully like most people, a mild version) and all the adults in the house get it, give the kids the opportunity to do something to help (i.e. jobs that they could do, write the jobs down on a piece of paper, possible telephone numbers, try to make it fun, even 4-5 year olds can follow this task). This helps to take away the fear element; the focus is on the ‘other’ rather than ‘self’. Keep in touch through social media with family and help your children to keep in touch virtually with their friends.

Social distancing with the mother and child.

Think of the word S.I.P.….Structure, Information & Problem Solving

Structure: Let’s Create a Structure and not a Freefall

Be mindful that your kids are watching you, how you regulate your anxiety, anxiety is completely natural but try to regulate it. You can achieve this by keeping to a routine of sorts.

  • Create a time structure around TV and social media. Try to watch TV and use social media at the same times of the day.

Perhaps being off school would mean relaxing some of your usual rules on screen time for example…!

  • Try to keep to the same times for breakfast, baths, lunch and dinner.
  • Don’t forget to wash hands before and after so that safety becomes a normal part of daily living. Perhaps invent your own fun song of around 20 seconds as an alternative to the prevailing ‘sing happy birthday twice through’ advice.
  • They may have always gone food shopping with you, so take a photo or two when you go to the food store that you go into.
  • Of course, if as a family you previously didn’t have much structure to your days, try to keep to the separateness of routines.


Information: We need to regulate news broadcasts

  • Try to avoid listening to the daily Covid 19 news when they’re with you. Avoid following scare stories in the media. BBC Newsround is a reliable news source when it comes to Covid 19 and children. They present stories in a way that’s both accessible and balanced for kids and pre-teens.
  • Create a story-book or encourage them to write a diary on the daily news as they see it.


Problem solving: Kids are natural problem solvers

  • Let them know that feeling anxious about the virus is ok, because you can then talk about what exactly is the concern, and then you can find ways to reduce it.
  • Children want to be excited about the Easter holidays, celebrate that by putting on the calendar and writing down things to do when this is all over.

Social Distancing & Children’s Mental Wellbeing:

This is a time to return to basics in all ways.

One basic activity is a breathing activity that reduces stress. You could teach breathing techniques to them and present it as a game. 7/11 breathing is excellent for this. Sit quietly. Put your hands on your stomach. Breathe in for the count of 7, out for 11, through your nose. Focus your mind just on your breath. Imagine your stomach is like a balloon inflating as you breathe in, deflating as you breathe out. Try to make it fun.


Agree on a parenting style

If there’s one thing that creates stress and confusion in families with kids, its conflicting parenting styles. So sit down and decide on what is and isn’t going to be acceptable. It’s okay to create entirely new parameters. Write down your decisions if they’ve changed from the previous ones and share together with your kids the new ‘ground rules’.


Relegated to Cave Dwelling

We can connect with others and the world in novel ways, even though we’re relegated to cave dwelling, there’s something simplistic about that, get off the treadmill, support each other, stay safe, and we’ll help kids to get through this together.


Lower your expectations and then lower them again.

It’s an exceptional situation we are all in, and comes with all kinds of stressors, and we’re learning as we go along. The less we expect, the less we feel apprehensive, disheartened and frustrated.

Most of us don’t acknowledge our own high level of expectations of others, and ourselves, so take some time to make a frank and honest list. Then try to cross off all the things that don’t really matter during these challenging times.


One important expectation to cross off!

This means don’t expect your kids to always get along, or to always be a good calm parent, or to not have an argument in front of the kids. It will probably all happen.


Just remember that you are a ‘good-enough’ parent!

Kids and father while social distancing.