How can we support children and young adults with mental health and being out of school?

by Guest Blogger, 18 May 2020
Father supporting child with school work

All around the world our lives have been turned upside down by the Covid-19 outbreak. We are experiencing a whirlwind of uncertainty.

There are so many questions, and few answers at the moment. How long will the lockdown last? How long will schools be closed? What grades will I be awarded? Will I be able to follow my dreams?

We know that this uncertainty affects not only our own mental health but that of our children and young people. Every person is different and reacts to these challenges in a variety of ways depending on their age. So, what can we do to help support them?

Understanding and recognising emotions 

Emotions are what we feel, not what we do or think. There are negative emotions, such as, anxiety, anger, boredom, sadness and also positive emotions, like happiness, joy and hope.

Children and young adults are not always sure of how to communicate how they are feeling and may not always be able to express themselves. This can be confusing or scary.

We can try to help children recognise their emotions by naming them. Also remembering that everyone responds in different ways – there are no right or wrong emotions. This is known as emotional intelligence and can be really helpful.

Voicing how we feel and why, can be used as a model to help young people to be more expressive with their emotions. For example, "When I lost my favourite ring this afternoon, I felt angry and sad". Voicing how we feel and why, can be used as a model to help young people to be more expressive with their emotions.

There is another example in the UNICEF book “My hero is you” that illustrates this emotional intelligence:

“It can feel scary and confusing when things are changing, Sara”, said Ario. “When I feel scared, I breathe very slowly – breathe out fire!”…..

“How do you relax when you feel scared?” Ario asked them. “I like to think about someone who makes me feel safe,” said Sara.

Recognising that these emotions are completely normal

When we recognise our emotions, it makes it easier to respond to them. During this pandemic, news of school closures and news headlines are pretty alarming and can make young people anxious. It is good for them to remember that they are not the only ones feeling like this. That is how they are supposed to feel.

Adolescent psychologist, Dr Lisa Damour says, “Psychologists have long recognised that anxiety is a normal and healthy function that alerts us to threats and helps us take measures to protect ourselves…..your anxiety is going to help you make the decisions that you need to be making right now.”

Experiencing these feelings and turning them into positive emotions will help to keep us all safe.

Ways of managing and looking after mental health

Here are some ideas for managing and looking after your mental health which have been suggested by young people:

Have a routine

Even though you are not physically going in to school, it is good to set out a routine for the day. Build in time for schoolwork, leisure, exercise and breaks. Try setting goals for each session so that it keeps you motivated and focused.

Learn something new

Use having more time as an opportunity to learn new things. There are lots of fun online courses out there, many of which are free. Or maybe take up a new hobby like origami or cooking! It’s a good way to expand your mind, learn new skills and have fun at the same time.

Keep in touch with teachers and friends

Just because your friends and teachers are not in the same room as you it doesn’t mean you can’t connect with them. Have virtual lunches or snack breaks and use the virtual learning environment (VLE) from school.

Keep up with exercise

Physical activity is a motivator and great for mental wellbeing. All those endorphins (happy hormones) sprinting round the body helps to keep you feeling good.

Play an instrument, paint or draw

Being creative or playing an instrument can help to relax and put you in a state of wellbeing. Activities like this can be very therapeutic.

Watch a movie to relax

Movies are a good way to relax. One teenager says he watches films in different languages so that he can also learn a new language - win, win!

Spread kindness and support each other

It is important to remember that with everything going on at the moment, it is natural to feel low and we don't have to judge or be harsh on ourselves. It's ok to be feeling sad or anxious. We are all in this together.

About the author:

Alison Rodrigues, Research and Assessment Information Manager for Cambridge Assessment International Education

Alison has 24 years' teaching and examining experience and is now an assessment specialist with 5 years’ management experience in international education. She has a keen interest in Mental Health and Wellbeing and is co-chair of Cambridge Assessment’s Healthy Mind Staff Network. In December 2019, she completed a charity cycle ride from Mumbai to Goa to raise funds for MIND, the mental health charity.


UNICEFYoung minds

Cambridge Assessment International Education has put together this useful resource on How to manage stress and learn effectively from home to help students navigate their way through stress during this difficult and uncertain time.

OCR has also published further tips for supporting students with mindfulness and wellbeing.

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