Responding to a pandemic: How can we help our children adjust to a new normal?

Graphic of virusWith schools closed and a constant stream of pandemic updates in the news, how can we help our children make sense of the situation? What can parents and other caregivers do to help children establish routines and regain the structure they need to feel safe? Central Rivers AEA school psychologist Dr. Dana Miller offers a number of tips for parents as we navigate this challenging time.

“First, we all need to take a breath and recognize that we are doing the best we can,” said Miller. “This is new territory for all of us and no one has all the answers. Children take their cue from parents during traumatic events so the calmer we can stay, the better off our kids will be.”

Miller offers other tips as well, including the following:

  • It is important to be reassuring and honest when children express questions or concerns. Answer their questions in a factual, but developmentally appropriate manner. They may not understand why they are out of school, not allowed to play at the park or with friends. Sharing that there is a virus and that limiting exposure to other people and places will help keep them healthy is a good place to start. Note that when there are a lot of unknowns children tend to fill in the blanks themselves. The stories they may tell  themselves are often much worse than what is actually happening.
  • Check in with your children, ask them how they feel. Validate that it is ‘okay’ to feel whatever they feel. Share with them that they are not alone in having that feeling.
  • Make sure they know who they can talk to when feeling upset.
  • Monitor and limit exposure to the television and social media. This may result in increased anxiety and worry. If your child is getting information via the internet and/or social media share with them that there is often misinformation shared. 
  • In a time when there are so many things they cannot control, focus on what they can control throughout the day. Washing hands, staying home, etc.
  • If your child is missing their friends, set up a virtual play date, write them a letter or send them an email.
  • Plan activities with your child, making dinner, crafting, reading, whatever you and your child enjoy doing.
  • Children will need reassurance, this means that they frequently engage in behaviors to get your attention. Having a routine in place and frequent check in will help.
  • Let your children know you are prepared to keep them safe.
  • Plan your day with your child so they know what to expect.

For Parents/Caregivers

  • Take time for yourself! Self-care is important, especially in times of increased stress. Read, take a walk, dance, calm breathing; do whatever works best for you to unwind.
  • Remember that you do not have to be the perfect parent and educator. Academics are important, yes, but it is more important that we are tending to the social and emotional needs of the family. Children need to feel loved, reassured, and safe. If you are doing that, you are doing a great job!
  • We are all in this together! Do not be afraid to reach out to your friends.
  • Ask for help!

Finally, these websites offer additional support and advice:

How to talk to children about the COVID-19 Pandemic- National Association of School Psychologists

Supporting Kids During the Coronavirus Crisis– Child Mind Institute

Helping Children Cope During and After a Disaster – CDC

Managing Stress and Anxiety– CDC

Taking Care of Mental Health During the Face of Uncertainty: Protecting Your Mental Health During the Coronavirus Outbreak– American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Coping with a Disaster or Traumatic Event- CDC

Dr. Dana Miller is a school psychologist with Central Rivers AEA. She can be reached at