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Helping Children Cope During COVID-19

By Kosha Shah, PsyD
Renewal Counseling Center

The effects of the coronavirus pandemic has flipped families’ lives in a matter of days. As schools closed, parents have had to quickly manage childcare and attempt to balance work and home. Teleworking is a solution for some parents, but also presents unique challenges. Parents have had to increase their juggling act by helping children complete schoolwork, while keeping up with their own deadlines, meetings, and house duties. Then there is the looming uncertainty and stress of job security, life events cancelled, and health of loved ones. It can be overwhelming to think about the negative cascade of effects of the virus, contributing to increased stress, but there are steps that families can take to mitigate the impact. Especially, during the stressful time, it is important to engage in one’s own self care to prevent from “pouring from an empty cup.” Your well-being is connected to your child and is just as crucial.

Below is a list for parents to assist in managing through the coronavirus.

  1. Stay Connected. You Are Not Alone.
    This is one phrase that I have emphasized to parents and families. There is community within the family, community among your neighbors, and those you have not met. It is critical more than ever to stay connected and help kids stay in touch.

    Organizing virtual play dates can help children remain social. Do not forget to schedule your own virtual dates. Reaching out to other parents from your child’s school, old friends, and family is a means to feel supported. The community is going through this together.

    Staying connected can also look like lending a helping hand to a neighbor if you are in the position to do so. This helps show children that there are concrete acts we can take as a collective to fight the impact and increase their sense of agency and control over the situation.

  2. Focus on what you can control
    In a time where there is great uncertainty, it is natural to be worried about the future and “what may” or “may not happen.” Identify and list with children the ways we do have control over aspects of life. This could be as concrete as washing hands and social distancing to stop the spread, or general as managing one’s own reactions and feelings about the situation.

  3. Increase the sense of safety and talk about concerns
    Children want to feel safe and protected. During times of panic, safety is threatened. As parents, the instinct is to protect the child from danger or distressing emotions. However, children are naturally curious and wondering about the predicament. Allow open communication and space for children to talk about their concerns with you.

    Acknowledge any worries and answer questions they may have. There are many myths about the pandemic. Focus on facts. Encourage children to start a project or diary about their COVID-19 experiences if they are not as comfortable verbally expressing themselves.

    Model calm behaviors about the pandemic for children as they look to care givers for how to react to situations. Attempt to monitor your own reactions and feelings about the pandemic and find healthy outlets and supports for yourself in this difficult time. The National Association of School Psychologists has additional resources on how to talk to children.

    Limit the amount of news about the coronavirus on television and social media. Children’s stress and anxiety may heighten if they are listening to in depth talk about events related to COVID-19 or frequently viewing stories about it on social media. Be mindful how you speak about the coronavirus.

  4. Take Frequent Breaks
    As schools move toward online learning and there are increased assignments for the home, children may need additional breaks to clear their minds and prevent over exhausting themselves. Create a schedule for the children and insert frequent mini breaks to refresh their minds. Having a schedule for school and a routine for the day also helps children with a sense of predictability and calm during uncertain times. The use of timers is useful to maintain a schedule. Create a go-to list of activities for the breaks with children that they can look forward to doing.

  5. Make Time for creativity and play
    In being confined to the home, kids need additional outlets. Incorporate extra play and leisure time. Engage in extra art, painting, mindful coloring, or writing. Allow them to have additional time to play games to de-compress from the stress and panic.

    Engage in one-on-one special time with your child. Working from home give the opportunity to be with your children, but understandably your mind may be focused on the next phone call, meeting, or deadline. Individual time, even 15 to 20 minutes a day, free of devices, engaged in an activity with a caregiver helps youth feel important, acknowledged, seen, and can strengthen your relationship. Allow your child to come up with the fun activities.

  6. Monitor Children's Distress
    This is a time where children may need more time and reassurance. When stress increases, children may be increasingly irritable, anxious, or withdraw. Be aware of signs of emotional distress and speak to a professional if symptoms worsen. The CDC has a list of common signs across the lifespan and resources for helping children cope.

Similarly, if you are feeling overwhelmed, and cannot seem to shake off stress, the sadness or anxiety, you do not have to fight it alone. Please reach out. Mental health professionals are available via telehealth and are aware of the heightened stress in the population. DCPA has list of resources to connect you with a therapist. Please check District of Columbia Psychological Association website and DCPA's Task Force on COVID-19.

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