Helping children and youth deal with COVID-19

Children and youth may face higher levels of anxiety and stress during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Strategies to help your children during this time include actions you can take as a parent, actions you can help your children take, and family-oriented activities.

What can I do to help my child cope during this time?

Schedules. Help your children set a regular schedule and stick to it as much as possible, while allowing for flexibility where needed. Children benefit from knowing what is going to happen and when. They will do better with at-home schoolwork with a regular routine that includes set bedtimes and wake-up times.

  • Have your child help with creating the schedule. Post it in your living space.
  • If transitioning between activities is a challenge, try using a timer which will alert the child that it is time to transition to a new activity.

Activities and exercise. In times of social distancing, museums, activity centers, playgrounds and many other places are closed. It can be challenging to find new ideas or activities that will help engage the children. To address this, ask the children to help brainstorm ideas for new activities.

  • Many zoos, museums and activity centers are offering free, online tours of their facilities. See what you can find.
  • Many child and youth physical activity videos are available online and can help you incorporate a recess or activity during the day.
  • It's beautiful outside and many neighborhoods are doing special activities for children who are out on walks, like sidewalk chalk art, hiding a bear or figure in the window, etc. As a family, look for opportunities to spend active time outside

Manage your anxiety and stress

Often children will pick up on anxiety a parent is experiencing, so take steps to manage your anxiety and stress.

  • Try to limit children’s exposure to media coverage.
  • Avoid talking about your anxiety or stress with or in front of children.
  • If you become overwhelmed, take a step back and give yourself a break – go for a quick walk, go into another room, etc.

Staying connected

Connecting with friends and family. We've been asked to “socially distance” but not socially disconnect. Help your child stay in touch with friends and family in unique ways.

  • Have fun activities such as a “drive by” to wave at friends and family or engage in a service project that will help a neighbor or community organization cope with the pandemic.
  • Set up virtual play dates and visits with relatives.

Connecting with children. Some children may not be fully aware of or understand what is happening but do recognize that things are different, and that people are worried and upset. Children may exhibit this increased anxiety as an increase in tantrum behaviors, defiance, or acting out.

  • It's ok to talk with your children about the pandemic, but do so in a positive, honest, open, and age-appropriate manner. Use language they understand. Control the messaging your children receive by taking the lead to talk with them. Don't have media coverage playing when they're in the room, if possible.
  • If a child has a tantrum, respond in a calm, consistent, and comforting way. Find times to gently talk to them about how they're feeling and if they have any questions you can answer or fears you can help alleviate. Make sure they know you're available for ongoing. conversations.
  • Play with your child and look for themes of fear or danger where you can be reassuring, comforting, supportive, and shift to positive outcomes.
  • A great “grounding” activity for children is for each of you to pause and name 5 things you see, 4 things you hear, 3 things you smell, 2 things you touch, and 1 thing you taste.

Ask for help when needed

Changes in the family schedule can be difficult to navigate for both parents and children. It's ok to ask for help. If a friend, neighbor or family member is making a grocery store run, ask them to pick up what you need and leave it on your doorstep – and consider doing the same for them.

If you have a spouse or significant other in the home, coordinate your work schedules and homework/supervision time so that each of you can focus on work when needed and the children when needed. Taking turns managing the schedule, lunches, and activities can help give each parent in the home a stress-relieving break.

If you or your children are feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope, it is ok to reach out to a professional for help. You can call:

  • Your primary care provider or pediatrician
  • The COVID-19 Emotional Health Relief Line 1-833-442-2211
  • The Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
  • The Disaster Distress Hotline 1-800-985-5990
  • Emergency child care 2-1-1
  • Support regarding an alcohol or drug problem 2-1-1