Supporting kids in the time of COVID-19

March 23, 2020

The COVID-19 public health emergency is putting a lot of pressure on parents, caregivers and others who work with children. They must explain challenging concepts to help children manage their fears and keep routines as stable as possible.

To assist with these challenges, we offer the following suggestions:

  • Create situations for children to comfortably ask questions at their own pace. Answer questions honestly using concepts that children can easily understand. For example, explain that the new coronavirus is one of many different types of viruses, like the ones that cause colds. And be ready to repeat your answers as children may re-ask the same questions as a way to gain reassurance.
  • Help children manage their fears by modelling calmness and by providing accurate information. This can include explaining the steps you are taking to keep them healthy and safe. (See sidebar, below.) It may also involve highlighting the many actions that community members are taking to protect everyone. And avoid letting children be exposed to media sources that could unnecessarily increase their anxiety.
  • Maintain children’s regular routines as much as possible. Fun activities, like playing outdoors and bike riding, are still possible even with physical distancing. Similarly, technology can help with other important activities like play dates and connecting with grandparents.
  • Encourage children to think about ways they can help others. This could include, for example, helping neighbours who may need things delivered to their doors, sending positive messages to loved ones who may not be near, or communicating with other children about doing schoolwork together, remotely.

Our sidebar, below, gives helpful resources for parents and families. For children who are experiencing more severe anxiety, the book Helping Your Anxious Child may be particularly useful. (Many local bookstores are offering free shipping for online and phone orders.) The book provides guidance to parents of school-age children on ways to teach cognitive-behavioural strategies to reduce anxiety, including recognizing worries and changing the thinking that encourages them.

Collectively, we have faced serious challenges in the past — including wars, 9/11 and wildfires. We will weather this latest crisis as well, with strong public health leadership and with the support of everyone who cares for and works with children.

Resources for parents and families

New resources for children are being developed rapidly. These include a comic explaining the virus and how to keep safe, a silent video showing good handwashing techniques,  a new book on handwashing aimed at kids, and a webpage highlighting relaxation exercises. For families with a child on the Autism spectrum, a website at the University of North Carolina offers seven support strategies designed to meet the unique needs of children with autism.