Medical Student Author: Priya Shah  Student Reviewers: Rachel Reardon , Chandler Moore , Logan Beyer , Margaret Irwin  Faculty Reviewers: Gene Beresin, MD , Rachel Conrad, MD , Janis Arnold, MSW, LICSW   Harvard Medical School,  Massachusetts General Hospital, Department of Psychiatry, Child Psychiatry Service,  Boston Children's Hospital, Department of Psychiatry,  Boston Children’s Hospital, Department of Social Work
This can be a very stressful time for children and caregivers alike. It can be hard to know how to support children during this unprecedented time with a lot of changes to your daily routine. Below are some tips to help you navigate this new situation.
Kids often worry when they are kept in the dark. Don’t be afraid to discuss the coronavirus pandemic with your children. Most of them will have already heard of the virus or seen people wearing face masks, so helping your children feel informed can give them reassurance. Start by asking what they know or have heard about the virus, and where they got that information from. This can be a great way to begin the conversation and dispel myths.
Adopt a developmentally appropriate approach. Do your best to elicit and answer your child’s questions, instead of volunteering too much information. It is okay if you do not know the answers; being available to them is what matters.
Do your best to manage your own anxiety. Children can sense when their caregivers are worried, sad, or upset. Try to take some time to calm down before answering your child’s questions or having a conversation with them. Consider introducing your child to techniques such as the 4-7-8 breathing exercise and practicing them together.
It is also okay to model to children that there is a range of acceptable feelings to have, and that grown-ups and kids can learn how to handle them together. This can be validating and also teach empathy. However, it is important to have this conversation when you as the adult are calm, and your personal anxieties are relatively controlled. The Coronavirus Anxiety Workbook from The Wellness Society can help provide a framework for these discussions.
Be reassuring and focus on what you are doing to stay safe. Explain the precautions you are taking to make kids feel empowered to do their part. Model behavior such as hand washing, coughing or sneezing into your sleeves, avoiding touching your face, and wiping down frequently used surfaces to reinforce these practices.
Infants and toddlers (<3 years)
Maintain routines to provide a sense of familiarity and security.
They can sense when a caregiver is worried, sad, or upset. Offer more physical comfort and soothing.
Preschoolers (3-5 years)
Elicit your child’s questions, and provide brief factual explanations.
Maintain routines and focus on activities that give your child a sense of control. For example, they can count to 20 or sing the ABC’s while they wash their hands.
Encourage normal play and reading. Children may cope with their fears through repetitive play, such as playing doctor and checking on their stuffed animals every day, or using toys to create a hospital helping people.
Let your child know you are there to keep them safe. Offer increased physical comfort and soothing.
School-age children (6-12 years)
Give your child the space to explore their feelings and ask questions. Keep answers simple and factual.
Provide reassurance that you and their school are doing what is best to keep them safe.
Supervise television and social media use. Be available to answer questions that arise from seeing information online.
Everyone is managing this pandemic differently, and there are lots of strong opinions. Try to avoid discussing your own opinions about how other grown-ups are reacting in front of your children. This can help encourage compassion for all types of coping and prevent younger kids from developing (and repeating!) judgements.
Adolescents (13+ years)
Adolescents (teens and young adults) may be gathering data from a variety of sources, such as school, friends, social media, online websites, and/or television. Some of these sources may not have accurate information. To encourage use of reliable sources, you can share where you yourself find trustworthy information.
Discuss the facts with your child. Focus on listening to your child and their concerns. Explore the emotions that arise as they encounter new pieces of data.
Informational resources for caregivers:
Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Fact Sheet
COVID-19 Health Literacy Project Fact Sheets in 30+ Languages
MGH Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds Coronavirus and Family Mental Health and 7 Ways to Support Kids and Teens Through the Coronavirus Pandemic
The Wellness Society Coronavirus Anxiety Workbook