Helping children through lockdown with “Coronavirus Chats”

This story was published 9 February 2021

Support workers - who work with pupils from military families by providing support during times of upheaval - have shared some tips to help support children through lockdown.

Nickie reading children's story

North Yorkshire’s Service Children’s Champions, Nickie Young and Jess Greenhalgh, have been working on a number of wellbeing projects with pupils since the start of the pandemic. Service Children’s Champions are unique roles created by the County Council to provide extra support for the large number of service children in the county. They support the emotional wellbeing and social development of children and young people aged five to 18, especially during periods of active deployment and times of change, so have been well placed to support children through the kind of upheaval brought about by the pandemic.

Nickie Young, who works alongside schools in Catterick Garrison and Richmondshire, said they came up with “Coronavirus Chats”, during the first lockdown as a way to find out what children understood about Covid-19 and the restrictions they were facing. Parents were asked to interview their children using a list of questions chosen to spark up an age-appropriate conversation around the pandemic.

She said: “The Coronavirus Chats were a bit of fun, we wanted to collect the views of children and - while it’s not an approach we have used previously - I would say that encouraging children to talk about their thoughts and feelings without directly asking them ‘how they are’ sometimes makes it easier for the child to respond.

“Fun questions like these let the child share their thoughts and opinions without feeling anxious. It also gives parents an opportunity to empathise with their child and let them know they’re not the only ones finding things weird or difficult.”

The questions include;

  • What is the coronavirus?
  • Do you want to go back to school?
  • Who is the first person you are going to hug when lockdown ends?
  • Where is the first place you want to go when lockdown ends?
  • What do you think we can do to get rid of the coronavirus?
  • Are your parents / family good teachers?
  • If coronavirus was an animal, what animal would it be?
  • How did the coronavirus start?
  • If you had to wear protective clothing to help you, what would it be?

Nickie Young said: “Certainly some of the answers we received on the questions brought a smile to our face, one three year old boy said if he had to wear protective clothing it would be his Paw Patrol onesie, while other children suggested if the coronavirus was an animal it would be everything from an electric eel to a duck, kangaroo or elephant.

“Other answers were very poignant, especially when they were describing the first person they wanted to hug when lockdown ended. Having fun chats like this can help validate mixed feelings they may have about lockdown.

“They may have fears about not seeing friends, or getting behind with work which they haven’t been able to articulate yet. Having them talk about these issues is also an opportunity for parents to reassure their children.”

Other projects undertaken by the North Yorkshire’s service champions include a six-week course called Wellbeing Warriors, which aims to help primary school children develop ways of improving their own wellbeing and supporting wellbeing in others.

They will also soon be hosting live sessions for service children of all ages called Five Ways to Wellbeing.

Nickie said: “We are trying to support service pupils in whichever way we can over the lockdown period. When we work with children in school, Jess and I often share stories with them, so we have recorded ourselves reading some of our favourite stories and added them to our YouTube channel. 

“A lot of our wellbeing work - centred around the change that many service families experience due to redeployment or active service - has translated well to the challenges brought about by the pandemic. We have found that we are well equipped to support children as they learn to manage common feelings of isolation and uncertainty during this time.”

Robert Campbell, Headteacher of Leeming RAF Community Primary School said: “The Service Children’s Champions have worked with a number of our pupils both in advance of, and during, the Covid-19 crisis. Their impact has been invaluable; pupils have spoken of raised confidence, the ability to share how they feel and the way they can cope with difficult situations as parental deployments and transition.

“At RAF Leeming Community Primary School, 99 per cent of our pupils are from service families and pastoral care is an intrinsic element in all we do. Even our curriculum has been shaped by the needs and challenges of service pupils in mind.

“The school has staff trained in supporting pupils’ mental health in every key stage team, deployed with flexibility to allow children to benefit from this expertise, whether in the form of one-on-one check-ins, social groups, or wellbeing intervention. This has not ceased during covid and we are continuing this work online throughout lockdown.

“Parents are going through an unprecedented period which is causing huge pressure on many families. If children are not emotionally available for learning, either due to stress, tiredness or anxiety, then any attempt made to engage them with academic material will ultimately fail. Where this is the case, parents and carers should not be afraid to contact schools and explain this, and request short ‘breaks’ or respite from remote learning to help children to ‘reset themselves’.

“Schools will work to support parents in these situations, and come up with creative solutions to address wellbeing concerns.”

Colin Scott, Headteacher of Risedale Sports and Community College in Catterick Garrison said: “All schools are doing all they can for all of our community at present, be they military or civilian.

“These are difficult times for young people and their families and the support of the Service Children’s Champions has been helpful for many of our pupils as part of a wide range of support we have on offer, including the appointment of a dedicated, full-time school counsellor, who started with us three weeks ago and is already beginning to make a difference to our school population.”

Stuart Carlton, Corporate Director of Children and Young People’s Services said: “This is a really difficult time for children and families. Children are hearing, seeing and understanding far more then we often realise. Talking to children, asking them what they think about the pandemic and lockdown – can be very helpful and is an opportunity to reassure them.

“We have a lot of resources in schools and online for children and young people if they need further help.”

Read more information on the work of the Service Children’s Champions.