Supporting Our Children During COVID-19
Parenting young children is hard already – so we know during this stressful and uncertain time that parenting may feel even harder. You may be experiencing mental health symptoms that make parenting harder, you may be trying to work from home AND parent, and you may be experiencing other difficult things like all of a sudden being unemployed, living in a home that doesn’t feel safe, or suffering from COVID-19 or other illness.
Here is what we want you to know about supporting your children during this time:
Take care of yourself and stay connected to others. It is much easier to parent when we feel okay and supported. Visit Taking Care of Yourself and Staying Connected to Others for ideas and information about ways to cope and stay healthy.
The most important thing to remember for supporting children during a stressful time is to make sure they have support. Stress can become manageable and even have positive impacts for children as long as they have the support they need in the midst of stress. This means that they have someone they can go to when they have difficult feelings, someone who can help them make sense of what is happening, and someone who is committed to helping them feel safer.
Even though children may not be able to tell you how they are feeling, children may also be feeling worried, sad, or overwhelmed. Infants and young children show their feelings through their behavior. For many children, the changes of not going to childcare or school may cause them to feel many difficult feelings. You are not alone if you are seeing changes in your child such as:
- More crying, fussiness, or whining;
- Wanting to be near you all the time or wanting to be alone more;
- More anger, frustration, or defiance;
- Changes in sleeping, eating, or toileting
If you are feeling calm and ok, try talking to your child about the feelings they are having that you notice. Helping them name the feelings they have tells them that you understand them and that you are there to support them. Even though it may feel strange for some, you can talk to infants and young children about their feelings and what is happening. Even if they cannot talk yet or fully understand what is happening, your calm presence and reassurance can make all the difference.
Try using the S.A.F.E. Communication strategies for helping your child when they are having difficult feelings.
Remember that the things that help us as parents feel better also can help kids. Some ideas to help kids with difficult feelings:
- If possible, ask other safe people in their lives to connect with them via the phone or online;
- Get outside as much as you can – maintaining physical distancing guidelines.
- Try to stick to regular bedtimes and nap times
- Regular and healthy meals and snacks. If you need help with food, please visit Other Resources for links to help.
- It may be difficult to do right now but try spending at least 15-20 minutes alone every day with your child playing or doing an activity together. For ideas, visit Parent-Child Activity Ideas.
Check out the following free online books to help your child understand COVID-19:
- “Trinka and Sam Fighting the Big Virus” from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN)
- “Georgie and the Giant Germ” from the University of Michigan.
For other ideas about how to talk to your young child about COVID-19, check out these resources:
- Free Webinar by Dr. Anne Gearity, Helping Your Children Manage COVID-19 Realities
- Minnesota Department of Health – Tips and Resources for Children and Parents During COVID-19
- Zero to Three – Tips for Families
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- Children’s Minnesota
If your child’s emotions or behavior feel too overwhelming for you or your child, you can still get mental health support for your children right now. Click Resources for Children for more information about where you can get help.
For his thoughts about supporting children and ourselves through this crisis, read the blog posting of Redleaf/HHS pediatrician, Dr. Krishnan Subrahmanian, called Rituals and Resilience.