Resilience—the ability to bounce back from a difficult situation—this isn’t just something people are born with. Dr. Wendy Moss, author of Magination Press book, Bounce Back: How to Be a Resilient Kid, provides kids with exercises and strategies to build resilience. During this especially challenging time, the chapters about handling decisions, disappointments, and new challenges and about coping with unchangeable situations can be useful. 

In this blog post, Dr. Moss offers insights and tips to help your child cope with the stress and life changes created by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

A few months ago, most of us could not have anticipated the changes in lifestyle and the way COVID-19 could infiltrate our communities and cause fear, illness, and even death. So, how can we support children as they try to cope with staying home, not being in school or in extracurricular activities, not being able to follow their favorite sports teams, not seeing friends, and possibly knowing that all these changes are due to the presence of a dangerous virus?  This blog provides strategies to help children deal with the general stresses created by the pandemic, not specific situations such as someone they know being ill with or having died from the virus. 

Focus On Yourself

Children often judge whether a situation is scary, out-of-control, or manageable by watching and listening to trusted adults. As you read some of the tips to help your children, try them on yourself first so you can convey that you are able to cope with this situation that is out of your control.

Support Your Child

  • Casually talk with your children about their understanding of, and feelings about, what is happening in their world. Talk to each child individually since the conversation may end up being different depending upon their age and personality. They may have inaccurate information that makes it even more scary.  
  • Let your children know what you and your family can do and are in control of (e.g., staying home; proper hygiene) and that grown-ups have a plan to deal with the virus, even though it will take time. Just make sure that you believe what you say before reassuring your child!
  • Ask how your children feel about the changes in their daily activities. Some children may not be anxious because they like the extra time at home. However, some children are overwhelmed by the change in their regular routine and their fears of illness. Just being able to share these feelings can be a relief for many children.
  • This time at home can be an opportunity. Ask your kids to share their ‘wish list’ of family activities. You can also add some. Having everyone at home can be a great time to play games, teach each other about interests, tell stories about ancestors, or make up silly stories.  
  • Since we must physically distance ourselves from each other, this is a great time to look for creative ways to connect or reconnect with friends or family. Encourage your child to mail thoughtful cards to relatives or send e-mails. Try video chatting using social media to help your child connect with others. Since children are home and separated from friends, they may feel isolated. Try to schedule times when your kids can have virtual get-togethers with friends over one of the social platforms on the internet.

Ease Anxiety

While not all children are anxious, many are wondering if the virus will harm their relatives or themselves. They may worry that they won’t be able to return to school or other activities. If your child experiences anxiety or even anger at COVID-19, here are some tips:

  • Validate feelings. Remind your child that no emotion is wrong or bad. If your child feels uncomfortable, repeat back what you heard your child say so he or she feels validated.
  • Manage the media. Discuss and focus on lots of topics, not just the virus. This may mean turning off the television, at times. Kids can get overwhelmed with the media coverage. You can take the news information and decide what to share, and how to share it, with your kids.  Knowing your child, you can decide whether even minimal to no exposure to the news is appropriate. 
  • Create a Routine. Try to set up a regular location to do school work and stick to a predictable routine. Print up a daily schedule. During weekdays, put into the schedule lunch, recess, snack time, then add in the academic subjects. Add in other fun times. Perhaps you can add in a ‘hobby period’ or a ‘family game time’.  
  • Use calming strategies. Along with your child, try these strategies:
    • Slow counting. Count from 1 –10 (younger children) or slowly count backward by 7’s from 100 (teenagers).
    • Muscle tension/relaxation.  Start at the top of your head and then tighten that muscle (e.g., forehead) for three seconds, then relax it before moving to the next muscle (e.g., facial cheeks).  Just remind your child to only tense lightly.
    • Slow breathing.  You can take slow, deep breaths through your nose for a few seconds.  You can pretend you are breathing in the smell of your favorite food. Hold that breath for 2-3 seconds, then slowly breathe out. A child can imagine slowly moving a feather across a desk.  Repeat this a few times.
    • Mindfulness.  Focus on the present.  Have kids focus on what they can see, hear, smell, touch, and even taste right then.  Sometimes they may need help to focus on what’s happening right now rather than thinking about ‘What if’s’ about the future.
    • Positive self-talk.  Focus on what can be controlled. Positive self-talk could be, “I now have time to do some of my artwork!” and “The adults are working on stopping the virus.  I can work on doing my schoolwork and having fun!”

As parents, you may never again have this amount of intense family time. Take advantage of it!  Communicate your excitement about part of this experience and your child may pick up on your positive energy. Maybe you can learn a new skill together over the internet, such as baking or how to juggle. Just make sure the activity is enjoyable and not frustrating for your child.

Keep the lines of communication open with your child, accept all feelings shared, and help your child deal with any anxiety that may be present. Keep to a routine. Teach positive self-talk. Explain to your child that staying home and the change of daily activities is actually doing something to combat COVID-19. If your child, however, is having persistent anxiety, sadness, irritability, or having other symptoms of stress (e.g., change of behaviors; sleep or appetite changes), it’s time to consider seeking professional help to help your child to navigate through this difficult time. Even though we are necessarily physically distant, help is still available. Here’s a link to help you locate a psychologist.

While supporting your child and being kind to yourself, remember to enjoy the silver lining – you have your family together and can create new and wonderful memories!

To download Chapter 5: Calming Yourself from Bounce Back, revised to reflect the COVID-19 pandemic,click here.

by Wendy L. Moss, Ph.D.

This Article's Author

Wendy L. Moss, PhD, ABPP, FAASP, has her doctorate in clinical psychology, is a licensed psychologist, and has a certification in school psychology. Dr. Moss has practiced in the field of psychology for more than 30 years and has worked in hospital, residential, private practice, clinic, and school settings. She has the distinction of being recognized as a diplomate in school psychology by the American Board of Professional Psychology for her advanced level of competence in the field of school psychology. Dr. Moss has been appointed as a fellow in the American Academy of School Psychology. In addition, some of her published books include Bounce Back: How to Be a Resilient Kid, Being Me: A Kid's Guide to Boosting Confidence and Self-Esteem, and Children Don't Come With an Instruction Manual: A Teacher's Guide to Problems That Affect Learners; coauthor, with Donald A. Moses, MD, of The Tween Book: A Growing-Up Guide for the Changing You; coauthor, with Robin A. DeLuca-Acconi, LCSW, of School Made Easier: A Kid's Guide to Study Strategies and Anxiety-Busting Tools; coauthor, with Susan A. Taddonio, DPT, of The Survival Guide for Kids With Physical Disabilities & Challenges. Dr. Moss has also written several articles.

Related Books from Magination Press

  • Bounce Back: how to be a resilient kid Book Cover

    Bounce Back: How to Be A Resilient Kid

    by Wendy L. Moss, PhD

    When a bouncing ball hits the ground, it bounces back. That’s what resilience means — the ability to bounce back from tough times. Some people seem to automatically bounce back. But the truth is that resilience is not something you are born with or not — it can be learned. Bounce Back will help you find your bounce using cool quizzes, lots of advice, and practical strategies that build up resiliency skills. Being motivated to learn resiliency skills is a great first step toward acquiring them!