By Simon Brighty, Group Mission and Marketing Executive Director
This year has been like no other as we each find innovative ways of coping with the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. For many of us, lockdown restrictions lifting means a slow return to a sense of ‘normality’; but the future mental health of young people hangs in the balance as we cannot yet understand the full extent to which this global crisis will impact our society’s next generation.
Responding to the evolving needs of young people
For the past 150 years, Nottinghamshire YMCA has been helping young people to belong, contribute and thrive through a variety of programmes, services and initiatives. With children’s needs rapidly changing in response to a post-COVID landscape however, we have a duty as a socially responsible movement to ensure our charity evolves to provide young people with the support and life guidance they need to navigate this new terrain positively.
BBC Children in Need this year surveyed over 1,000 children (aged 11-18) and discovered how two thirds believe that young people’s mental health has worsened because of the pandemic. Factors impacting mental wellbeing range from social anxiety towards re-entering schools as society reopens to fear of health risks associated with human contact.
From handshakes to comforting hugs – these engrained social indicators are practices that we so often take for granted; yet young people are growing up in a world whereby these activities are being approached with caution, even fear. This is deeply concerning as children learn many lessons through touch; whether it be expressing compassion through hugs or enjoying physical play in shared development environments. These elements are as much a fundamental part of youth development as academic learning, and we must now find ways to help young people reconnect with their surroundings in a format that inspires them to feel engaged, empowered and, most importantly, safe as we leave lockdown so they can go on to fulfil their life potential.
Empowering children to flourish after COVID
If there is one thing we know it is that children are adaptable, and constructing the right support networks can prove key. That is why our charity’s mission is to hone in upon core developmental assets geared towards empowering young people to grow into the best versions of themselves they can be. This commitment translates across all our provisions, with initiatives such as YMCA OnSide, YMCA Digital and our YMCA Village in Newark promoting youth inclusivity, whilst our skilled teams are working hard to enhance the charity’s dynamic STEAM offerings through programmes such as YMCA Childcare and YMCA Day Camps.
Operating within COVID-safe spaces, we are proud to be nurturing creative environments that energise children and young people to try new skills and grow in confidence and knowledge that their post-pandemic world can be a great one. We want children to know there is a place for them to contribute to their communities and thrive within a true sense of belonging.
As we move out of the pandemic, each of us can play a vital role in equipping our community’s future adults with the emotional resilience needed for them to come out the other side stronger and understand what is possible to achieve when they believe in themselves.
5 Top Tips for supporting a child or young person coming out of lockdown:
Give them time to move at their own pace:
Not everyone processes change in the same way. Lockdown has inspired unique personal challenges for every young person, and reassuring children that it is okay for them to adapt and re-join society at their own speed can help boost their confidence in knowing there is no one right way to navigate this strange time. Mindfulness activities such as nature walks, art projects or cycling can help refocus your child’s mind back into enjoying the present moment rather than fearing for the future.
Set achievable, positive goals:
The COVID risk has not yet passed and big crowds at school or in public can feel daunting to a young person who has spent a lot of time at home or isolating. Try arranging a lowkey one-to-one meet-up or playdate (depending on their age!) with a trustworthy friend to begin normalising the context of socialising – ideally in a quiet open space like a park or garden – before building up the scenarios to include more people and situations.
Write it down:
Encourage young people to journal their thoughts and worries. Expressing feelings through writing or drawing pictures/comic strips can be therapeutic and help them to make sense of their concerns and identify the best ways forward.
Speak with someone:
Be a listening ear and invite the young person to speak with someone they trust to help process the transition back into physical routines. If they do not feel comfortable sharing details with loved ones, give them contact details for a reputable support organisation such as Young Minds or Childline.
Look after yourself:
It is sometimes easy to forgot that caring for your own wellbeing is just as important as looking after those around you. Ensuring you are well-rested with a balanced diet and regular exercise can work wonders and establish you as an even better support network for the young people in your life.
- Mind UK offers confidential support and guidance for any mental health matters on: 0300 123 3393 or email email@example.com.
- Young Minds’ Parents Helpline can offer detailed advice, emotional support and signposting about a child or young people up 25 years old. Call freephone on: 0808 802 5544.
- Check out the Mental Health Foundation for more guidance on caring for your mental health when coming out of lockdown.
Building the future together
The most important thing of all is to be honest with your child and yourself. Whilst children look to adults as leaders and role models for how to act in society, it is important to remember that it is okay to have fragile moments as we are all human. So long as we are also passing on traits of courage, compassion for others and a sense of community growth by coming together to support each other, then our shared future will be a bright one for the next generations to come.
I hope this blog has inspired you to make a positive impact in the lives of children and young people in your communities. I am always happy to discuss Nottinghamshire YMCA’s mission and vision for how we can best support local people, so please feel welcome to get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org.