Spring Term 2020
How to look after your family’s mental health when you’re stuck indoors
With schools closing and many adults working from home, families are going to be cooped up. It’s easy to get cabin fever when children who are used to running around the playground and hanging out with friends are stuck indoors with their parents.
Here are our tips for keeping everyone’s spirits up as much as possible as we self-isolate.
It’s suddenly much harder to move around, but it’s important to stay physically active, not just for your body, but for your mental health, too.
Walking – the current advice is that it’s OK to walk outdoors as long as you stay two metres away from other people. (Going outside doesn’t increase the risk – only being close to other people or touching things they’ve coughed over.) The advice about moving around may change slightly, so keep up to date with the latest guidance from the NHS. If you are lucky enough to have a garden, spend time there, maybe doing some exercise, maybe pulling up some weeds or tidying.
Home-made gym – the NHS website has lots of ideas for exercises that need no more equipment than a chair, a pillow or a sofa.
Yoga – one of the few forms of exercise that requires almost no space. There are hundreds of free online yoga tutorials on YouTube. Yoga with Adrienne is the most popular series. Parent Zone’s resident yogi strongly recommends Cole Chance: her workouts, for beginners to more advanced practitioners, take from 10 minutes upwards and target all parts of the body and different times of day and moods.
Dancing – all you need is some good music. We’ve had mandatory dance breaks at Parent Zone. Take five minutes away from your screens. Get the kids to show you their best moves.
Mental health experts agree that it’s important to maintain a routine in the days of isolation, or everything can blur into sameness. Mark out different parts of the day for different activities. Agree a schedule with your kids, so they know when it’s time to do some gaming, when they need to move about, when they need to make food or be helpful, when they need to sleep.
Related to this:
Eat well and stay hydrated
It’s currently difficult to find certain foods in some supermarkets, but there are already lots of ideas online for meals to make with store-cupboard staples. Eat a balanced diet. Get children involved in planning meals and in helping to prepare them. Make sure everyone drinks lots of water, too.
This is related to exercise – we all tend to sleep better if we’ve been physically active. So try to fit some exercise into every day. Try some evening yoga to calm you down. And now is definitely the time to enforce a no-screens-before-bed rule.
Ration your intake of information
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has some excellent advice, including to avoid looking at the news constantly – limit yourself to a couple of times a day. (A constant stream of updates can be very disorientating.)
The WHO also recommends sharing good news – if you hear about a successful vaccine trial, for example, or a slowing infection rate.
This is the time to be mindful about your social media use. Are you really concentrating when you pick up your phone? Could you wait another hour before you look?
Be kind to yourself and have fun
The coronavirus pandemic is like nothing we have ever known – but it doesn’t all have to be bad.
Give yourself treats; pamper yourself. If you love box sets, settle yourself in for a couple. (We’re going to be publishing a guide to some of our favourites.) Attack that pile of books you’ve been meaning to read. If you like jigsaw puzzles but you’re usually too busy, use the time you’d normally spend on your commute to amuse yourself.
Play games with your kids that you haven’t played since you were a child. Or take the opportunity to play one of their favourites – maybe you’ll discover a love of Minecraft or Fortnite. We don’t give ourselves permission to play enough, as adults, so now is the perfect time to rediscover play, with your children.
Also make plans with your family for the things you’re going to do when this is all over.
Do something creative
Whether it’s drawing, writing, playing music, knitting, or building a bus out of cardboard boxes, you can lose yourself in creative activity, experiencing a supercharged state of concentration and freedom that’s been described as “flow”. It doesn’t matter how rubbish the end product is (though you probably have to want it to be good) – it’s all about the process.
Learn something new. Use the time you’ve got to learn, perhaps with your children. There will be lots of resources online – both sent by schools and provided by other bodies, such as the BBC. (We’ll be doing a roundup of these too.)
Work with your kids on whatever they’re learning – and don’t forget all the useful life-skills that aren’t covered by the curriculum. Learn to bake bread together; teach them to cook eggs in six different ways. Learn an instrument or a language, or do a project together about something that interests you both.
This is probably the most important thing of all. Human beings are profoundly social and this pandemic is requiring us to stop socialising. Just because we’re not in the same physical space as other people, though, it doesn’t mean we can’t be with them in other ways. Take time to keep in touch.
There’s lots of research to show that people who volunteer are happier than those who don’t. Help people in the community who can’t get out. There are all sorts of neighbourhood schemes springing up.
Celebrate healthcare workers, supermarket workers and all those who are keeping us going. In Spain, whole streets have come out onto their balconies to applaud supermarket workers as they lock up for the night.
If you’re still anxious
Try everything above and if none of that works, do something you can control. Write down what you’re worried about – in a diary, say – and put it away.
Practise meditation (lots of courses online) and deep breathing. Focus on helping others.
Again, the WHO has very helpful advice, including:
Encourage children to express their feelings. If they feel anxious, they should be able to say so.
Provide them with information. Be honest, but be sure to emphasise the positive: they are not likely to die, more people have recovered from the virus than have passed away.
If they are in a high-risk group, keep them socially isolated and assure them that you are doing everything to protect them and that if you follow the rules together, there is no reason for them to be infected.
And of course, remember that children may need extra love and attention. Keep them close!
Autumn Term 2019
Child Exploitation - County Lines
The Government’s Serious Violent Crime Strategy 2018 describes county lines as:
“a term used by police and partner agencies to refer to drug networks (both gangs and organised crime groups) who use children and young people and vulnerable adults to carry out illegal activity on their behalf”.
Whilst gangs dealing drugs is not a new activity the use of children and young people to transport drugs, activity which often involves violence and carrying weapons, is a modern development. Data shows that children as young as 12 work as couriers and unsurprisingly, these are often the most vulnerable children – those in care, or with parents who are absent, offenders themselves and/or drug users.
Vulnerable adults can also be used as part of the network, and risks to them involve ‘cuckooing’, which is a group of offenders taking over their home and using it as a base to run operations from.
The county line itself refers to a telephone line – a particular number or numbers which will be used to order and convey drugs over several counties, sometimes nationwide.
The gangs operating county lines do so very efficiently, using tactics such as coercion, violence, (including sexual violence) intimidation and weapons.
Is this really a problem?
The National Crime Agency say that there is no area in England unaffected by this activity. There is no doubt that this activity is happening in our city, and that our vulnerable children, young people and adults are at risk from it.
We all see violent crime on the news - this has recently included street robberies, house burglaries targeting car keys and serious assaults involving knives. The Police tell us that a large number of these are likely linked to gang and county lines activity and so the impact city is clear to see. Police are working hard to disrupt criminal activity as much as they can, but we all have a duty to look for the signs of county lines and to report what we see. Only by working together can we protect the most vulnerable in our communities
What should I be looking for?
Some common warning signs:
- Returning home late, staying out all night or going missing
- Being found in areas away from home
- Increasing drug use, or being found to have large amounts of drugs on them
- Being secretive about who they are talking to and where they are going
- Unexplained absences from school, college, training or work
- Unexplained money, phone(s), clothes or jewellery
- Increasingly disruptive or aggressive behaviour
- Using sexual, drug-related or violent language you wouldn’t expect them to know
- Coming home with injuries or looking particularly dishevelled
- Having hotel cards or keys to unknown places.
Summer Term 2019
Mental health is an increasingly high-profile topic in society and the media - particularly with exams season.
The Mental Health Foundation offer a series of publications on how to look after your mental health that are available to download for free. These include 'How to overcome fear and anxiety', 'How to sleep better' and 'How to manage and reduce stress'.
You can also visit our Safeguarding page focusing on mental health for further tips and links.
Spring Term 2019
Media attention often focuses on e-safety and electronic devices. The BBC reported an NSPCC call for immediate action on online safety while a similar article reported a study suggesting children don't feel safe online. Online video streaming site YouTube has also apologised recently after disturbing videos appeared in its kids' app. You can find more guidance on e-safety on our Online Safety page.
Alongside safety online, there has been a lot of media attention regarding appropriate screen time for young people. This opinion piece on the Guardian website by Jean Twenge, a Psychology Professor at San Diego university, suggests 90 minutes a day should be the limit. She also offers links to a multitude of academic studies that have explored this topic further. The British Psychological Society, meanwhile, is calling for more evidence on appropriate levels of screen time for young people and offers a range of recommendations for parents and carers. These include:
- Minimise screen use before bedtime - see the following article from The Independent about screen time
- Encourage children to engage in a variety of activities away from screens
- Parents/carers should discuss the different aspects of digital media with their children and encourage positive media use
- Spend time online together to help young children get the most from educational content
Source: British Psychological Society, January 2018