Looking after our own and our children’s emotions during COVID-19

As we navigate through these changing and challenging times, we are dealing with work interruptions, family disruptions, health concern. None of us is immune to increased stress and anxiety, and this can affect our ability to adapt to a ‘new normal’.

A parent and child cussle on a sofa

Yet, we have no other choice. Our children need to belong, to feel protected, to feel loved and to feel safe. How can we help them when we need help ourselves? Danny Sinclair, PHA, has explored this question with Elaine Hoey, Clinical Lead at Relate NI, to see how we can maintain healthy relationships during COVID-19.

Relate have published information based on child psychologist, Dr Bruce Perry’s guide for parents on how to stay regulated and handle stress.


This involves learning to control your behaviour, emotions and thoughts and developing the ability to manage disruptive emotions and impulses. This is something that parents can help children to develop, an especially important role when children are absent from their usual learning environment and school-based pastoral supports.

Perry suggest seven useful tools to help families emotionally regulate during the pandemic. These tools provide a framework to help us regulate ourselves and be the best we can be as parents through these challenging times.

Structure your day - children appear to be much more tolerant to stress when it presents in predictable ways, such as daily routines and bedtimes etc. When stress is unpredictable, children become more vulnerable rather than resilient.

Having meals together – this helps to maintain a structure and a routine, and lets you check in and stay connected with your children.

Limit media – while technology can be a great tool to stay connected with family and friends at the minute, relying too much on media can replace time that should be spent easing each other’s stress and connecting emotionally.

Exercise – when children are in a fearful state, they also have a heightened state of arousal. Rhythm and movement can help to regulate them, such as walking, running, dancing and singing.

Reach out – connecting with others is so important, even though we have to be physically distant we can remain emotionally close. Taking care of your own needs is SO important. An unregulated child cannot be regulated by an unregulated parent!

Get a good night’s sleep – due to current worry and stress it is normal for us to be feeling more emotionally and physically exhausted. Sleep is more important than ever. To help us sleep better try to exercise in the morning or afternoon and wind down with calming activities. Avoid late night screen time.

Stay positive – if we as the adults try to stay calm and regulated, our children will feel less distressed. In turn, everyone will feel socially, emotionally and physically better.

As we practice self-care, rely on others and connect with the people around us, our families will come out of this with greater personal strength, stronger relationship connections and better resilience.

Further information and support

A resource that may be helpful in taking these tips and tools forward is ‘The Story of the Oyster and the Butterfly’. This illustrated book by Ana Gomez helps children to understand the Coronavirus and COVID-19 and helps them to regulate their emotions. It is available free to download in 19 languages at https://www.anagomez.org/covid-19-resources/

For more information on healthy relationships during COVID-19, see http://www.relateni.org/images/RelateNI-HealthyRelationships.pdf or visit www.relateni.org/covid19relationshipsupport

Parentline are available to support parents – freephone 0808 8020 400

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