How Parents Can Help Their Children During the Pandemic

Stop, look, and listen.

Posted Mar 16, 2020

Listening to our children is most helpful in times of stress and crisis.

  • Stop: When children start to communicate, try to stop what you are doing.
  • Look: Observe any changes in their non-verbal behavior.
  • Listen: Listen to the words they use and the tone they use.

General responses to stress.

  • During times of stress, anger and irritability are common emotions in everyone.
  • Help your children express stress in appropriate ways.
  • Reassure them that they are not the cause of your irritability.
  • When stressed, "regressions" are normal (acting younger than one's age).
  • If symptoms are worrisome, professional help may be needed.

How do children of different ages experience this crisis?

  • Preschool children: For young children, how adults (especially their parents) react to and deal with stress is most important. Parents are their protectors.
  • School-age children: Children of school age do more things on their own. During times of stress, it is important to try to continue their normal routine.
  • Adolescents: During times of stress, teens may become too dependent or too reckless. Parents need to be on the lookout for risk-taking behavior (e.g., testing the limits of social distancing).

What can parents do?

  • Worries about the impact of the coronavirus are pervasive.
  • Try to deal with your anxiety with your partner, with another adult, or with a professional.
  • Try to discuss the issues with your children with your anxiety in abeyance.
  • Try to limit your children’s exposure, and yours, to too much news because fears, especially children's, are made worse by the repetitive warnings and pictures.

The importance of parents as role models.

  • Parents are role models and need to communicate that children will be cared for.
  • Parents need to follow all the recommended sanitary precautions.
  • They can demonstrate what needs to be done: thorough hand washing when entering the house, when eating, after using the bathroom.
  • Children may have fun singing "Happy Birthday" twice (that is the recommendation) while washing their hands with soap and warm water.
  • Social distancing should be practiced outside the nuclear family.
  • Some children may need repeated explanations of why schools are closed.
  • Young children may need reassurance of why they cannot have a birthday party.
  • Young children may not understand why playdates have to be limited.
  • One has to explain the value of social distancing: limiting the spread of the illness.
  • Children need reassurance that they and their parents may get sick but will get better.        

How to handle your child’s fears.

  • Take them seriously.
  • Ask what they have heard about the coronavirus.
  • Acknowledge that it is a scary time.
  • Acknowledge that invisible bugs that make you sick are very difficult to imagine.
  • Little children may draw (either spontaneously or ask them if they want to draw what they think).
  • Older ones may ask more questions about the symptoms; speak about the realities of the virus.
  • Adolescents may speak more scientifically.
  • Look to websites such as the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. 
  • Stress that medical experts are doing what needs to be done to make sure that all of us will be safe.