We’re months into the COVID-19 pandemic now, and it looks like the concerns, complications, and uncertainty it has created will be with us for a while. As we head into the fall, children, parents, and caregivers alike are suffering from a kind of pandemic fatigue. Caring for our children and ourselves has taken on a new dimension, and we all could use some strategies to handle these ongoing stressors.

In May, Magination Press published two free resources to support kids during the pandemic: A Kid’s Guide to Coronavirus, by Rebecca Growe, MSW, LCSW, and  Julia Martin Burch, PhD, created for kids ages 3-8, (now also available in Spanish) and Unstuck! 10 Things to Do to Stay Safe and Sane During the Pandemic, by Bonnie Zucker, for kids ages 13-18. Both have a note at the end, providing specific strategies for coping with the anxiety, uncertainty, disappointment, and emotional roller coaster created by the pandemic.

This excerpt from A Kid’s Guide to Coronavirus Note to Parents and Caregivers provides six tips for parents to help themselves and their young children through this challenging time.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for children and adults alike. Yet within great challenges lie opportunities for growth, bravery, and resilience.

Provide Just Enough Information

Strike a balance between oversharing information, which may lead kids to worry about aspects of the crisis they need not be worried about like the economy, and under-sharing. Too little information can send active imaginations into overdrive. Provide your child with limited, age-appropriate facts about the virus. Focus on what they can do to keep themselves, their families, and their communities safe, like wearing a mask and washing hands.

Validate and Name Emotions

It’s normal for children to have a range of emotions in response to the pandemic: anxiety, fear, or anger, for example. No matter the emotion, it is important to validate it—to communicate to your child that their emotion makes sense and is okay for them to feel. For example, “I can understand why you’re feeling worried. There are a lot of changes happening right now.” It is also helpful to label the emotion your child is feeling; research demonstrates that naming an emotion decreases its intensity. In a difficult moment, taking the time to say, “I see that you are really sad” can be incredibly soothing to your child.

Focus on the Present Moment

Worried brains tend to focus on the future, predicting all of the scary things that might happen. Teach your child how to gently bring their mind back to the present moment by practicing mindfulness. Being mindful simply means that you are purposefully paying attention to the present moment without judging it as good or bad. Try playing a mindful “I Spy” in which you count all of the objects of a certain color in the space around you. You can mindfully eat, dance, walk, listen to music—the sky is the limit!

Create a New Routine

Flexibly following a consistent plan day-to-day provides much-needed stability for your young child. Routines don’t have to be complicated. For example, it can be helpful to just structure the day around basic needs such as wake-up times and bedtimes, meals, and periods when you get active. Constructing a routine around these building blocks of physical and mental health makes it more likely that they will occur consistently.

Create Memories

Look for opportunities to create new, special family rituals. These don’t have to be time consuming or involve preparation. For example, you can jump-start your days with a family dance party in which a different family member chooses a song each day and everyone dances around the breakfast table. You might also help your children brainstorm ways that they can give back to their community, such as writing cards for the elderly or creating supportive signs for health-care workers. When your children look back on this time, they will remember that, despite the many challenges, the time at home also allowed your family to create memories together.

Put the Oxygen Mask on Yourself First

Whenever you can, pause and take a moment or two to check in on yourself and your emotions. By ensuring that you are attuned to and taking care of your own needs, you will have the reserves available to help support your child during difficult moments. Make a point to practice what you preach with your children. Focus on what is in your control, such as practicing and modeling coping skills, limiting news consumption, and creating your own new routines around sleep, nutrition, and exercise.  Validate and be gentle with yourself. It is impossible to perfectly fulfill all of the roles you are being asked to play in this moment in time. Get comfortable with being good enough.

When to Seek Help

If your child is experiencing so much anxiety or sadness about COVID-19 that it causes significant distress or begins to impact their functioning (e.g., consistent trouble sleeping, eating, or engaging in typical life activities), you should consult with a licensed psychologist or other mental health professional. There is no need to wait until social distancing restrictions are lifted. During the current crisis, many mental health providers are offering therapy over virtual meeting platforms. Use the APA Therapist Locator to find a therapist near you.

To hear A Kid’s Guide to Coronavirus read aloud, click here.

To download free copies of A Kid’s Guide to Coronavirus or Unstuck!: 10 Things to Do to Stay Safe and Sane During the Pandemic, click here.

For the Spanish version of A Kid’s Guide to Coronavirus, click here.

by Rebecca Growe, MSW, LCSW

This Article's Author

Rebecca Growe, MSW, LCSW, is a clinical social worker with a private practice. She specializes in treating child and adolescent anxiety disorders, disruptive behavior, and traumatic stress. She lives in St. Louis, Missouri. Visit Growe Counseling LLC.
by Julia Martin Burch, PhD

This Article's Author

Julia Martin Burch, PhD is a staff psychologist at the McLean Anxiety Mastery Program at McLean Hospital in Boston. Dr. Martin Burch completed her training at Fairleigh Dickinson University and Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School.She works with children, teens, and parents and specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety, obsessive compulsive, and related disorders. Outside of her work at McLean, Dr. Martin Burch gives talks to clinicians, parent groups, and schools on working with anxious youth.

Related Books from Magination Press

  • A Kid’s Guide to Coronavirus

    Rebecca Growe, MSW, LCSW and Julia Martin Burch, PhD

    Kids have a lot of questions about the coronavirus pandemic and all the new changes in their lives.

    This colorful picture book gives them the answers they’ve been looking for, explaining what the virus is, how it spreads, and what they can do to help, in gentle and simple language that even the youngest kids can follow.

    A Note to Parents and Caregivers offers strategies for helping your kids navigate anxiety they might be feeling around the pandemic.

    Download a free pdf here.

  • Guía de navegación del coronavirus para niños

    Rebecca Growe, MSW, LCSW, and Julia Martin Burch, PhD

    Los niños tienen muchas preguntas sobre el coronavirus y todos los cambios nuevos en sus vidas.

    Este libro vistoso les da las repuestas que buscan. Explica qué es el virus, cómo se propaga, y qué pueden hacer para ayudar, con un lenguaje sencillo y suave que incluso los niños más pequeños puedan entender.

    Una Nota Para Padres y Cuidadores ofrece estrategias para ayudar a sus niños a navegar la ansiedad que sienten sobre la pandemia.

    Ver todos los libros para ayudar a los niños a sobrellevar COVID-19.