Teddy bear breathing helps Sarah’s kids deal with coronavirus anxiety

Making sense of the pandemic is challenging for everyone, but for children, it’s especially hard.

Six-year-old Willow Beattie is in her second year of school and she has spent much of it learning from home.

Her dad Chris said not knowing when she will be going back to school has left her unsettled.

“She’s worried about not seeing her friends and how long the lockdown is going to go for,” he said.

She is just one of many kids experiencing heightened anxiety during the pandemic.

Change in routine can throw kids ‘out of kilter’

The CEO of not-for-profit Smiling Mind, Dr Addie Wootten, said remote learning and changes in routine can be particularly harmful for children.

“I think we underestimate the impact these big events can have on young children … those changes can throw kids out of kilter in terms of their mental health,” she said.

Kids Helpline reported a surge in calls to its counselling hotline during last summer’s bushfires — the number of calls has surged again during the pandemic.

A six-year-old girl wears headphones and has her eyes closed sitting in front of a computer.
Willow Beattie is using meditation to help deal with the anxiety around the lockdown.(Supplied: Smiling Mind)

Tracy Adams, CEO of Kids Helpline operator yourtown, said demand for their services was high.

“Even in this cohort of five to 12 year-olds, we’ve had a 30 per cent increase in counselling contacts,” she said.

The year’s disruptions have prompted many children and parents to look for new ways to cope.

Smiling Mind said its mindfulness app was downloaded more than 180,000 times in April — that’s a 165 per cent increase on last year.

It has meditation programs designed for all ages, including many that can be used with children.

‘Teddy bear breathing’ helps kids think of positive things

Working mum Sarah Hamilton is juggling three kids aged seven, five and four who are all learning remotely from different institutions.

“I think it’s really hard for the kids in that they’re so used to the routine, so when that changes that’s a little bit uncomfortable for them,” she said.

A mother sits on a doorstep with her three children sitting with her.
Sarah Hamilton’s children have been having trouble adjusting to the new routine of learning at home.(Supplied)

She is one of many mums using the app to help ease the burden of remote learning on herself, and her kids.

“We did the teddy bear breathing this morning, and getting them to think about all the positive things in their life has been good,” she said.

Smiling Mind has also launched a new digital care pack as part of the Victorian Government’s extra funding for mental health services announced in April.

“They’re designed for kids aged five to 12, and they provide parents and carers with information and guidance in what to look out for, and how to support mental health practices at home,” Dr Wootten said.

Sudden changes in behaviour and sleeplessness are just some of the signs children might be struggling to cope.

No matter what though, Dr Wootten said it was important to be open and honest about the pandemic with our kids.

“We have a natural tendency to want to protect our kids and they try to hide away anything that might worry them but kids are really perceptive, they will pick up on what’s going on around them,” she said.

A father holding his smiling daughter who has a red bow in  her hair.
Chris Beattie said he and his wife openly discuss their worries about coronavirus with six-year-old Willow.(ABC News: Sean Mantesso)

Willow’s dad Chris said he has also tried to explain to his daughter how he and his wife are feeling too.

“We talk about some of the anxieties mum and dad have too, so Willow understands that we’re all a bit worried, I think she gets some comfort in that,” he said.

Willow and her family are adopting a regular meditation routine to stave off the lockdown blues, making it a part of their routine.