Helping Kids Cope with the COVID-19 Crisis

  • Every child is different
  • Help children understand what is happening
  • Create and keep new routines

Content provided by Zero To Thrive

As adults, we may tend to overlook or minimize how very young children are affected by current events. However, even very young children are watching and listening to what is happening, including how we respond emotionally. This means we need to think about how to help even very young children make sense of current realities and help them feel safer and more secure.

Every child is different

The COVID-19 crisis has caused significant disruptions to the lives of children – school and activities are cancelled, social distancing means they can’t play with friends, and caregivers are often stressed out as they try to adapt. Every child is different and there is no “correct” way to get through this. Every family should do what works best for them and focus on their unique needs.

With the support of parents and other caregivers, most children will manage well. However, parents should pay attention to their child’s behavior and look for changes.  Young children often cannot share their worries in words and may act out. Changes in behavior can signal that your child is feeling stressed and will need patience and guidance in managing their feelings.

Help children understand what is happening

First, be curious. What has your child heard, and what does she think? Little kids can have all sorts of ideas about what is happening, and why? Sometimes when young children are trying to make sense of things, they will come up with explanations that are not only wrong but may make them feel even worse. For example, does your child think that everyone who gets COVID-19 will die? (Note: this is not correct. In fact, the risk of serious illness or death among in the general population is still low, and the risk for children is particularly low). 

Limit exposure to TV, news, and conversations among adults that might increase fear and anxiety. We are all in this together, and parents and caregivers are understandably worried and wanting information, too. Be aware that “small pitchers have big ears”—even very young children are aware of our emotions, tone of voice, or the urgency and fear coming through the tv or radio. Do your best to minimize children’s exposure to these things.

It is important to correct misperceptions and offer honest and realistic reassurance. Remind children to look for the helpers that are working hard to keep people safe. Help explain what the virus is, how to prevent its spread, and that most people who have the illness are okay. Learn more about talking to your kids about coronavirus.

Create and keep new routines

Kids thrive on predictability—and school closures, work changes, and other things happening right now can really undermine that sense of predictability and routine that keeps kids (and honestly, adults, too!) feeling secure. Plan a daily routine and make a calendar. Include play time with you. If possible, include time in the outdoors. Make a list of fun activities, like “dance party time”, “read a book time”, or “time to draw thank you pictures”. This also helps kids practice what they'd be doing in preschool. Dancing and playing and other fun activities can help everyone de-stress together.