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NSPCC worker: These are frightening times - but we can help children to get through them

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Ally Sultana, NSPCC West Midlands Campaigns Manager, talks about how the charity can help in these trying times.

Childline has received many calls from children and young people who are scared about the current situation

As an adult, it’s difficult to comprehend the enormity of the coronavirus pandemic and the impact it continues to have on all our lives.

For children and young people, it can be terrifying and utterly overwhelming.

Parents will have watched news bulletins with a mixture of fear and dread, awaiting the latest updates as schools close, supermarkets impose restrictions and households are told to stay indoors for their own safety.

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Childline has received many contacts from children and young people around the country who are scared about the current situation – Childline volunteers have delivered more than 900 counselling sessions on this topic, including 97 at the West Midlands’ base in Birmingham, and the figure continues to rise daily.

Issues raised include racially-charged bullying, general anxiety – often due to the sudden and severe changes to their daily routines – and even suicidal thoughts as round-the-clock coverage highlights just how widespread the pandemic is.

As a child, you rely upon the adults in your life to protect you and get you through any situation – but none of that is easy at the moment.

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While we’re all struggling to keep up with the news, disruptions and the latest advice, it’s essential that we take a moment to ensure we help children and young people understand the facts as much as possible.

Anxious

We need to look after ourselves, but the younger generation need emotional support just as much, if not more, than we do.

With schools closed, some young people may feel adrift from their support network of friends, and could be worrying about what the future holds for them and their family.

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One caller told Childline: “I feel really anxious, upset and lonely. The news has made my mental health worse but my CAMHS appointment has been cancelled and school has closed. I’m stuck at home having a horrible time because my sisters are bullying me because I’m autistic.”

Another said: “My mum is being very distant with me and I am usually very close to her, it’s really upsetting me. My mum and I have a good relationship but she’s really obsessed with the news and she won’t hug me or get very close to me. It scares me to think this will go on for months. She constantly talks about the coronavirus and my anxiety is getting worse.”

It’s so important to remind children that it’s natural to be concerned about what’s happening in the world, the vulnerable people and adults in their lives, how their exams will be affected, and how their friends are coping.

Everyone is different, and it’s important to try not to panic. Just because you’re staying at home, doesn’t mean you have to be glued to the news all day – everyone needs to take a break from current affairs and do something they enjoy.

Whether it’s reading a book, listening to music, getting into the garden for a little fresh air, or chatting with friends over the phone or online – sometimes the simplest things can provide some respite.

Attention

But it’s important not to avoid talking about coronavirus with young people. In a pandemic, ignorance is not bliss.

If they’ve picked up small amounts of information or heard rumours about what’s going on, talk them over and read an article together to find out the facts, and discuss them calmly together. They’ll be curious and scared, and by finding out what’s going on together you can help reassure them.

If they’re not talking about it, it might be appropriate to start a conversation. Ask them what they’ve heard or what they know about what’s going on and give each other your full attention – turn off the TV, radio and computer, and dedicate even just a few minutes to focus on these concerns.

Let them have their say, don’t dismiss their fears, but talk them over rationally and calmly to reduce their anxieties as much as possible.

If they don’t want to talk about it but you sense they’re still worried, they could be reminded that Childline is still here for them. Either by phoning for free on 0800 1111 or going online to childline.org.uk, they can speak to specially trained volunteers about their concerns, or use the online message boards to speak to other young people, draw pictures and play games to relax and take their minds off things for a while.

Childline provides an essential service to vulnerable children, some of whom may be in a life-threatening situation, which is why our staff and volunteers are working tirelessly to keep the service running.

While we are all facing events unprecedented in modern times, keeping children safe and providing them with a space to talk about their concerns is our number one priority.

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