Helping Young Kids Cope with COVID-19

Consistency and structure help to provide a sense of security and safety during times of stress.

Jessica Pladsen, MA, LMFT, RPT

Jessica Pladsen, MA, LMFT, RPT

Jessica has years of experience working in a variety of settings supporting individuals, families, and children. She has experience working with anxiety, anger management, depression, relational and attachment issues, child and adolescent behavioral issues, and trauma.

Check in with your children and ask them how they are doing. Children often show us through behaviors, rather than words, when they are struggling. While this can range from isolating behaviors to acting out, children may just be feeling more anxious. Try to find a quiet time to connect one-on-one and ask how your child is doing and what they might need.

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Please note, the information in this post is not a replacement for personal medical advice.

Keep a Routine

This is key! Consistency and structure help to provide a sense of security and safety during times of stress. The most important parts of routine are waking up, eating, and going to bed at the same time. It is very easy to get out of a regular sleep routine, and very hard to get it back on track. If you have a child that takes medications, be sure to keep on a regular medication schedule. This might mean setting an alarm for yourself. 

Routines can also mirror the structure typically provided at school or daycare, and this can ease with future transitions. Younger children can really benefit from a visual aid to support with this or use of timers to transition to different parts of the day. With so much uncertainty during this time, a routine can be a simple way to support both caregivers and children to have some predictability and consistency in the day. If your child sees a therapist, we recommend they keep this schedule. This is just another way that they have continued access to a helping professional and maintains continuity. Therapists are utilizing teletherapy and can meet with your child virtually in the home. 

Regular Check In Time

Check in with your children and ask them how they are doing. Children often show us through behaviors, rather than words, when they are struggling. While this can range from isolating behaviors to acting out, children may just be feeling more anxious. If you are seeing this, try to find a quiet time to connect one-on-one and ask how your child is doing and what they might need. While caregivers might not be able to “fix” these issues we can offer a compassionate ear and provide validation. Validation means we accept the perspective of another, not that we agree. For example a child might say, “I’m mad I don’t get to see my friends, this is so unfair.” A validating response would sound like, “I know this is really hard, and I can see how frustrating it is for you.” 

If kids are wanting information, you can provide this. Just make sure it is developmentally appropriate. A five-year old would need different information than a seven-year old. Keep things general, and provide a message that decreases anxiety, not one that adds to it. 

Find Things to Look Forward To

Get creative! Try to incorporate new activities into your day when possible. One of the most difficult aspects of this time is not knowing when things will go back to normal. Having things to look forward to fosters hope as well as breaks the monotony or boredom that can happen. This means getting creative. Have family camp out in the living room, make a pillow fort, have a dance party, try a new recipe, play beauty salon or dress-up, or have a game night. Get out old toys that children haven’t played with or rotate toys, so these feel new or fresh. It’s also important to try to find things that promote physical activity and time away from screens. Try to think back to times when this wasn’t available and what you might have done to entertain yourself as a child.

A change in environment can be important, and while this is limited, just getting outside can be a nice reset. You can go for a scavenger hunt in the yard or make an obstacle course. This can be a good way to burn off some energy and get rid of cabin fever.  Another in home reset, can be bath time, as this can be a nice break and the sensory aspect of this can be soothing or rejuvenating.  

Use Other Ways to Connect with People

A way to support connection and adhere to social distancing can be using virtual platforms to connect. There are a number of ways to create a social experience with family or friends and have something to look forward to. One of the more disappointing things is missing out on things we would typically be able to celebrate.

In our home we have had our share of these. One of my children had a birthday during the quarantine, so we had a virtual birthday party. We were able have some of his close family members present through screens to sing happy birthday and watch him blow out the candles. He was then able to have facetime and make phone calls to help celebrate his special day.

Another really fun way to do this can be setting up a “drive by” celebration. People can make signs stating their special celebration and loved ones can drive by and honk or wave. Go to (but not inside) homes of family and friends and play a game of Pictionary on a window, where some family members are inside, and the others are outside. Again, get creative. It’s important to have increase play and fun during such a serious and somber time. 

Mindfulness is for Everyone

Mindfulness is very important for emotional regulation and re-setting our systems. I personally recommend Mind Yeti or Mindful Powers for young kids. (Note, there can be some costs associated with these.) There are lots of free apps as well. Smiling Mind, a tool with family-oriented mindfulness, is free to use.

Caregivers can help in leading activities if emotions or behaviors are running high. This can be helpful for children and caregivers alike. Blow bubbles with your kids. It is fun for them and helps them engage in deep breathing (it’s like the mental health version of sneaking veggies into food). Muscle relaxation can be helpful as well. This is done by tightening muscle groups and then relaxing them. Caregivers can ask kids “how strong they are” and then go “loose or limp”. I liken this to a spaghetti noodle when they tighten muscles it’s like an uncooked noodle and then as they “cook” they get wobbly.

You can also listen to different kinds of music an see how the body feels after different kinds of songs, again dance with your child and have fun! There are also lots of fun videos that can get you moving or more relaxed which can help children and caregivers to feel more present and emotionally regulated.

You Don’t Have to be Perfect

Coping with the quarantine is difficult for all of us. Caregivers need to give themselves some grace and take time for themselves as well. Do your best when helping your kids cope with the pandemic, but know that your love is what they need most.

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