Katie Crouch is Senior Lecturer in Early Years and has worked in a range of medical and educational settings, providing a range of play-based therapy, language development and educational support for children and families. This is personal piece from Katie that serves as an important reminder to us all to stay positive, focus on wellbeing and to remember those critical people who are selflessly working to keep essential services and support going.

As a society, we have all been made aware of the up and coming challenges that face us. The reports on the television and alerts to phones and social media certainly seem to be building a picture of a future which can feel uncertain and unsafe.

What I hope to do is to help us to think about how we can look after ourselves and our loved ones at this time.

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“I have previously written blogs as a trained and informed professional, empowered by knowledge and experience. However, what I am doing today is writing to you as a person who is also concerned about vulnerable loved ones, who is feeling at times a little overwhelmed and experiencing waves of emotions and feelings. Today, I am writing to you as a parent, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a lecturer, a former teacher, but most of all I am writing to you as Katie.”

Each role or relationship I listed above conjures feelings in my heart and questions in my head. Will my parents, one of whom has a heart condition, be OK? Will they be safe? How will I be able to keep in contact with them? My sister is a frontline member of NHS staff. How can I help her to keep her family safe when she is busy helping others? How can I ensure we can keep our home a safe place for our family? How can we ensure our basic needs of food, warmth and shelter are met? My self-talk tells me to put a lid on those feelings and to carry on with a ‘stoic Dunkirk mindset’. However, the first thing I say to children is that it is OK to be worried when things feel unsafe.

child holding an adults hand

“Acknowledging our emotions helps us to deal with them rather than having a primal flight, fight or freeze response, which we can see when people are panic buying in the shops. We should be as reasonable with our expectations of ourselves as we would be with a child. I always say to children, that when things feel unsafe to look for the helpers. It is a well-known strategy, so why don’t we try to do that as adults?”

Children will look to us as adults and will follow our lead in how we deal with this situation. We have a responsibility to show them the calm, the safety, and to show them the helpers!

For example, rather than worrying about the fact that there may be less food; buy what we need, no more, no less. The reports from other countries, who are more experienced with this situation, is that food shops stay open with people queuing for a chance to shop for supplies. This is reasonable and it means that the vulnerable can access the things they need. We may able to use online shopping with delivery to the door. Look for the people who are making food deliveries, the people working in stores, the people who are ensuring we have what we need. They are the helpers!

We can try to tune into the positive media: the communities on balconies playing music, taking exercise. People showing sheer joy in activities that we may have shunned a few weeks ago. They are the helpers!

We should consider the incredible NHS heroes who are potentially packing overnight bags so they can stay in hospital to help those who need the most help. Appreciate the teachers and helpers who are schooling and caring for the children of these health workers. Tune into the figures of the people who have recovered from illness thanks to the care of the NHS and our wonderful community support. They are the helpers!

Let’s think about the frontline support services, paramedics, pharmacists, police, firefighters, and those who ensure our houses stay warm, our rubbish is collected, our post is delivered, our IT works and keeps us connected. They are the helpers!

When children ask us questions which may feel tricky to answer, we should try to focus on the positive wording. For example, ‘Why can’t I be in school with my friends?’ Explain that the schools are shut for some children to ‘help keep people well’ or to ‘help parents who may be helping others.’ We can use technology to keep in contact with friends and family. Why don’t we support our children to contact friends or family members? Technology, which has been blamed for stifling relationships in the past, can become our biggest tool to stay connected. Children could share a story of their day with an older relative. Could the relative read them a bedtime story via a device?

We can plan projects that we can do with our children. We can ask them for their ideas too. They are often far more exciting than ours. Can these be carried out indoors, or adapted to be done indoors? Who says you can’t have a paddling pool in the kitchen? How about having a ‘den day’, or a trip to the moon? Have a look at some of Norland’s 125 activities to do with children. Setting up a daily routine helps our children to adjust to the changes and feel safe in a familiar structure. Keeping our usual times to get up and to go to bed will also help to regulate hormones, emotions and stress levels.

It is important for us to keep busy and try to only check in with news updates at limited times during the day, ideally away from the children. Keep busy but find a balance. A way to do this is to try to have a wellbeing hour at some point during the day. This can be something which we can do together. There are lots of free exercise sessions which have been uploaded to YouTube for free. I personally recommend Joe Wicks’ range of accessible content for exercise and healthy recipes. Exercise is a great way to burn energy in a positive way and help our positive mindset.

If we are concerned about a loved one, either in our home or further afield, guidance can be sought from the NHS 111 website. It is important to try to stick to accessing information from reliable government sources rather than hearsay from social media. This will help us to follow the procedures based on research to help us to keep well.

Now, more than ever, it is essential that we come together and look out for others. We are social beings and need to stay connected with others. Reach out to people in safe ways and check in on people who may be more vulnerable than others. That way we can show our children that in times of crisis and worry that we can all be the helpers!

Stay safe and stay well!

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