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Helping children feel safe in this time of uncertainty


20 April 2020

Published by

Penrhos College

Written by Tracy Hart, Penrhos College Psychologist

No doubt you have been talking with your children for some time about COVID-19 and you have settled into routines that are the new norm – for this week at least.

No doubt you have experienced some anxiety, sadness or grief at loss of connection, activities and events. Perhaps there have been economic stressors and financial uncertainties.

No doubt you have already learnt a lot about what is helpful for your family and recognised the ways in which different people cope in uncertainty. Maybe you have reconnected with what is important to you.

As hard as it has been, it is so helpful to revisit all that you have learnt together so far. When you get a quiet moment, remind your children (and yourself) of these things:

It’s OK to feel anxious. It’s normal to feel anxious. Your body is doing exactly what it is supposed to do and driving you into action to keep you safe. Remind yourself you are doing all the right things like hand washing, staying home and physical distancing.

You might be picking up on the anxiety of others – that’s normal too. Can you picture that herd of antelope with a lion hiding in the grass? One antelope senses danger and they are all off! We can actually thank our bodies for giving us these messages. If you don’t need these uncomfortable feelings, just allow them to be there. Or maybe run off the adrenaline, take a bath, do some stretching, lie under blankets.

Staying in some sort of routine can help you to calm. For some children however, little or no routine will work just as well – be guided by them and their temperament/personality.

It’s OK to feel sad. Sad about the loss of connection to your friends and family. About the loss of things you were looking forward to. These emotions are normal under the circumstances. Allow these emotions to ‘have their time’ and work their way through our bodies. This will make it easier to focus on new ways to connect and new things to look forward to. Ignoring sadness is hard and tiring.

We can use this time to work out what really matters to us. As a family and as a community. Maybe write these things down and display them somewhere (like on the fridge!). We can escort our minds and our energy to these things when we are feeling a bit wobbly.

We can do helpful things! We can BE the helpers as well as looking for the helpers.

We have discovered many things that we do that are really helping us to cope. They are…..

What else? Let’s do more of that!

Parents and Carers: Fix Your Own Oxygen Mask

(A well-worn analogy but sums up the following perfectly)

You don’t have to have all the answers. You can ask your children what they know and then ask them about the questions they might have. Answer them with what you do know and in a language that fits their questions. Be honest about what you don’t know. Remind them you will answer their questions when you do know, and that they can ask you questions any time.

Take a deep breath. Everyone says it – but it really works. Try something a bit different and breathe out for as long as you can. Until there is no air left. And then let the air naturally fill up the vacuum in your belly. Feel your shoulders relax. There are things that you might need to attend to as the adult and this can be a nice ‘drop anchor’ before you switch into ‘calm, strong and wise’ mode with your children.

If in doubt, leave the schoolwork, the dishes and the ‘to do’ list. Breathe in. Breathe out. Hold them tight. Notice how your breath and heart beats slowly align. Sometimes you don’t have to do anything more to help your children feel safe in times of uncertainty.


Tracy Hart is a Penrhos College Psychologist. Penrhos Full Circle is a 2020 Initiative connecting parents and carers to best practice ideas and frameworks with regards to mental health and wellbeing.