Mental health during lockdown: Be the adult that your child needs

Written by: Dr Pooky Knightsmith | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Our young people’s mental health is on the line during the coronavirus lockdown. Dr Pooky Knightsmith discusses four things your pupils need to feel right now – and some simple ideas for making that happen

At a time when everything feels uncertain, children of all ages are looking to the adults in their lives for guidance and reassurance. That can be difficult when we are also struggling to come to terms with a new normal and have no idea quite what the future holds.

However, there are simple steps we can take to support the children in our care and protect their wellbeing – and a knock-on benefit is that many of these types of activities will make us feel better in turn.


More than anything right now, children need to feel comforted. That can be difficult especially if you are working remotely, but there are simple things you can do.

Children find a sense of comfort in familiarity, so consider how you can build what the children already know into their new school day. Routine, consistency and predictability matter too, so consider what each day looks like so children know what to expect and when.

Finally, returning to stories and activities they have previously enjoyed or may have enjoyed at a younger age can be a real source of comfort to worried children. You could try:

  • Broadcasting school assemblies online that have a similar feel to what you would usually do in school.
  • Bringing children together for form time or circle time regularly.
  • Reading stories aimed at younger children.
  • Rereading stories you have enjoyed together.
  • Revisiting happy memories you have as a class – images can be especially powerful with this.

Flow and creativity

Being able to get completely lost in an activity so that they forget all about their worries and issues can be a real gift for children right now. Activities that really engage them and enable them to find their flow or which allow them to be creative can be especially helpful. Similarly, getting lost in someone else’s world by reading, watching or participating in games can provide important respite. You could try:

  • Building children’s research, questioning, exploration and self-study skills so they have the tools they need to engage in independent learning of topics that interest them.
  • Encouraging children to spend as long as they like on tasks or activities that they are especially enjoying – whether this is maths, English, art or music. Children and parents will need to be given permission to go “off timetable” – you can helpfully provide some extension prompts or direction.
  • For learners with special interests, consider how they can incorporate these interests into their learning. This can be especially helpful for children on the autistic spectrum who will be in need of additional support at the moment.
  • Read together. Pick stories that spark the imagination and which leave pupils wanting to read on – encourage them to do so and perhaps set them a task to create a reading nook at home where they enjoy spending time. Time spent reading is never wasted!


Most of us take pleasure from achievement and attainment and this is something that we can feel is missing at the moment. So finding ways for children to feel that they are achieving and providing opportunities for them to meet even small goals can be great for their self-esteem and wellbeing. You could try:

  • Incorporating some easily achievable tasks among the work you set for learners.
  • Providing learners with the opportunity to celebrate what they have achieved; perhaps looking beyond academic achievement and celebrating other successes at home too.
  • Encouraging learners to engage with gamified learning which tracks and celebrates time spent trying, levels achieved or task completion.
  • Challenging your pupils to learn to type and charting their improving speed using one of the many online typing games and programmes; adults may enjoy joining this challenge too.


If we are not careful, the current situation can end up with the creation of a very utilitarian curriculum, but children will thrive on fun, now more than ever. Consider the things that would usually spark joy, both for you and your learners, and lean towards these parts of your curriculum. Consider if there are other tasks or activities that you could set your learners which might generate a little enjoyment in the home. You could try:

  • Building a little silliness into your daily routine with your class – perhaps sharing amusing videos or favourite jokes together.
  • Working with learners to create a list of fun things to do at home. Encourage them to share what they have enjoyed doing and to try out things their friends have enjoyed too.
  • Set some optional family tasks or challenges that will create some family-wide fun, such as playing board games together, cooking together or something totally daft like blindfolded drawing.


What you are doing right now really matters; it is hard and no-one has written a rule book on how to do this well. You know your children – follow your heart and if you feel able to meet their wider needs in whatever ways feels right to you, please try to do so. Maths and English matter, but right now, feeling happy, safe and cared for matter just as much, if not more.

Thank you for all you are doing – and remember to show yourself a little kindness as well. You matter too.

  • Dr Pooky Knightsmith is a passionate ambassador for mental health, wellbeing and PSHE. Her work is backed up both by a PhD in child and adolescent mental health and her own lived experience of PTSD, anorexia, self-harm, anxiety and depression. You can contact Pooky via

Further information

You may find the following short online courses by Dr Pooky Knightsmith a good use of your time right now. Both are free to access and are delivered as a series of short video modules.

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