COVID 19: Helping kids cope with stress during uncertain times

Updated: Mar 25, 2020

Parenting isn't easy on the best of days, let alone in this time of uncertainty. Our world is facing a pandemic and although the risk in Alberta are still low, COVID-19 has introduced a slew of uncertainty in our lives and the lives of our children. Will we need to work from home? Will schools and dayhomes be closed? Do we need to self-isolate? What will that look like?

Amidst our own stress, there are the little ones in our lives that we also need to think about. How do we help our kids cope with the stress of uncertainty? The World Health Organization (WHO) has developed an excellent resource that outlines strategies of how to help children cope. There are 4 key strategies you can use with your family to help manage the extra emotions: 1) Respond to your child in a supportive and sensitive way. 2) Make time for play. 3) Stick to your family's routines. 4) Talk to your child about the facts and a clear plan for your family.

1) Respond in a supportive and sensitive way.

Every child responds to stress in their own way. Some may need a bit more love and connection, and others may be more withdrawn or agitated. Notice what your child is telling you through their behaviour. This is an opportunity to respond to your child's behaviour in a supportive way. Acknowledge and validate and big emotions by helping your child put words to those emotions. Responding sensitively can be challenging when you, yourself are feeling stressed. When you notice your child's behaviour is more challenging or out of the norm for your child, take a moment to reflect that it may be their way of expressing their stress. "Listen to their concerns and give them a little extra love and attention," says the WHO.

2) Make time to play.

Just like parents, children also need to blow off steam to destress. Making time to play can help release some of that extra tension. Play is also an important part of how children process information and understand their world. Create time and space for play! This can mean an indoor obstacle course around the living room or even setting up a teddy bear clinic.

3) Stick to your family's routines.

Children love routine and predictability. They can anticipate and know what to expect. Keeping to routines now a days may pose a bit of a challenge. Try to keep things in line with your routine as much as you can. If day homes or schools are cancelled, keep to your daily wake up, nap, and sleep times. You may want to even follow some of the routines from day homes or schools that your kids are used to and use them at home.

4) Provide your kids the facts and a clear family plan.

It is important to let your kids know the facts about what is happening. Give them clear information, appropriate for their developmental age. Help them learn how to reduce the spread of germs. We have a great blog post on that here. It is also to let them know the plan for your family if a family member should feel unwell. You can do this in a reassuring way by emphasizing that preparation is a big part of reducing the spread of germs. Create a plan for your family to have a room dedicated for those who are feeling unwell. Know when to call 8-1-1 and when to seek medical advice. Have this plan communicated to everyone in your family so everyone is on the same page.

Although not mentioned in the WHO document, the best strategy to keep your kids calm is to address your own stresses about COVID-19. Become aware of the facts from accurate sources of information (see the list below). Talk to your friends and family about your plan should someone start to feel unwell. Try to avoid spreading the virus by following the Government of Canada recommendations to wash your hands, cough/sneeze into your elbow, keep a safe social distance, and clean your home (read more on these recommendations here).

Want to stay up to d ate on COID-19? Check out these reliables resources:

Alberta Health Services

Government of Canada

World Health Organization