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COVID-19: Tips to Help Parents Support Children

By Dr. Mary Margaret Gleason, Psychiatry and Psychology

Parents are the most important resource for children every day, but especially in stressful situations. Parents and caregivers may wonder what’s the best way to emotionally support a child during the COVID-19 outbreak. While every child and family is different, here are some ideas that may be helpful.

You are the expert about your child’s ability to process information and emotions.

You may notice changes in your child’s emotions – from showing more intense emotions to shutting down and not wanting to talk. It’s also not uncommon for children to have disruptive behaviors connected to their feelings.

  • Acknowledge their feelings: “You seem worried.”
  • Encourage your child to use calming strategies and skills, such as: taking a deep breath, spending a few minutes alone, listening to music, or going outside.

Having accurate information from parents helps children feel more secure.

  • Tell the truth, but not necessarily the whole truth, just what your child can understand.
  • Offer fact-based reassurance and comfort.

Consistent routines can provide comfort.

School closures and other changes in routine can make a child feel out of control or distressed – even if they seem glad not to go to school.

  • Keep familiar household routines consistent and predictable.
  • Some important routines may include bedtime, wake-up time, chores, family rules, and play.

Excessive media exposure about the outbreak can make children and adults feel more distressed.

Media coverage can feel overwhelming and distract from what is happening right now. Social media may also provide inaccurate and stigmatizing misinformation.

  • Limit media exposure.
  • Make sure younger children get their information from you.

Some children may need more help during the outbreak.

While some worries and other emotional and behavioral changes are typical during a stressful event like this outbreak, some children may develop more intense reactions of anxiety, depression, or behavioral problems. This can happen to any child, but some children are at higher risk, including children with mental health concerns or chronic illnesses and those who have had significant losses or have experienced traumatic events. Changes that last longer than two weeks or interfere with a child’s ability to participate in their daily family and school activities may indicate a problem that needs attention. 

  • Children in this group may need even more consistency with routines, sleep schedules, emotional support, and reassurance about the outbreak.
  • If your child sees a professional for their mental health, get in touch with that professional if you have questions or see changes that worry you.
  • If you see concerning changes and your child doesn’t have a mental health professional, talk to your child’s pediatrician.

Take care of yourself

The COVID-19 outbreak causes worry and stress among parents, too. When parents pay attention to their own emotions and take time to care for themselves, it’s good for them and their children.

  • Stay connected with family and friends.
  • Process fears or worries with other adults.
  • Use healthy strategies to manage stress.
  • Be gentle with yourself if you aren’t doing everything you want to be doing or aren’t as patient as you wish.

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About Mary Margaret Gleason, MD

About Mary Margaret  Gleason, MD Dr. Mary Margaret Gleason is a pediatrician and child psychiatrist at CHKD. She is interested in mental health promotion and creating collaborative systems of care that support early intervention and timely access to quality mental health care. A recent transplant from New Orleans, she is thrilled to join the mental health team at CHKD as the vice chief of its growing mental health program. She is also the division director of child and adolescent psychiatry at Eastern Virginia Medical School. Dr. Gleason looks forward to sharing her background in leading residency training programs, early childhood mental health, and developing clinical and research programs to enhance CHKD’s new mental health initiatives.