Helping kids cope during coronavirus

What happens when kids stop going to school? When they aren't playing sports or taking lessons … can't see their friends … and they’re hearing all kinds of things they may not understand?

It’s stressful.

So how do we help them cope? We talked to Dr. Georgia Pomaki, who heads up Manulife Canada’s team of mental health specialists, about ways we can help children get through the coming weeks and months.

Answer their questions.

  • Reassure your children in an age-appropriate way.
  • Answer the question they've asked, but don't offer a lot of info beyond that – if they want to know more, they’ll ask.
  • Acknowledge their fears, tell them what you’re doing to protect them, explain what happens if they get sick and reassure them that kids tend to get a milder form of the virus1.
  • Young children may not understand why they can't see friends or grandparents. Explain that by distancing ourselves, we aren’t just keeping ourselves safe, we're protecting the people we love from getting sick, too.

Make sure they understand what you've told them.

Kids can interpret information in all kinds of unexpected ways. After you’ve explained something, ask them to tell you what it means to them in their own words.

  • Limit and monitor TV, tablet and phone time, and with older kids, talk about the reliability of certain kinds of media over others.
  • Show them where to find relevant, factual information, like the Center for Disease Control or the World Health Organization.

Stick to a routine.

Strike a balance between learning, physical activities, and free play. For example, knowing that 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. is work time, 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. is lunch, and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. is time to play – gives kids a sense of security.

If teens want to sleep in, that's OK. But make it clear that you expect them to stick to a schedule that involves schoolwork, exercise, not too much screen time, and enough sleep.

Schedules don't have to be rigid or perfect: find a routine that works for your family and be consistent, so they know what to expect day-to-day.

Spend quality time together.

  • Play board games, challenge each other to charades, put on some music and dance like nobody’s watching.
  • Foster relationships among siblings by doing exercise classes together online.
  • Have them draw pictures of things they can do to stay healthy.
  • Schedule video “dates” with grandparents or other family members.

Be a team.

Keep your kids from feeling helpless with things they can do right now. Create a “we're in this together” atmosphere and encourage each other to do the best you can.

  • Ask kids to unload the dishwasher or help with dinner.
  • Have them wash their hands with a song like happy birthday (or let them create their own 20-second tune).
  • Show them how to video chat so they can call their grandparent(s) whenever they want.

Take care of yourself, too.

Kids take their cues from us. Find ways to take care of your own mental and physical wellness: parents who take care of themselves and find balance are a great example to their kids.

You're doing your best. You know that advice about limiting screen time? Don’t let it stress you out: if giving a device to your child is what allows you to get some work done, so be it. It’s not forever.

Cut yourself some slack when it comes to being the perfect parent.

You're doing your best. You know that advice about limiting screen time? Don't let it stress you out: if giving a device to your child is what allows you to get some work done, so be it. It's not forever.

We’re here to help. Please check our coronavirus (COVID-19) page regularly, for important information and more helpful articles.

Get free guidance to support your mental well-being during the COVID-19 crisis.

Portrait of Dr. Georgia Pomaki

Dr. Georgia Pomaki is the leader of our mental health specialists at Manulife and an Instructor at Pacific Coast University for Workplace Health Sciences. She’s a clinical psychologist by training and has a PhD in occupational mental health. She is a Certified Disability Management Professional (CDMP) and at Manulife she leads the development, testing and implementation of best practices for the management of mental health disability claims. Georgia also focuses on mental health prevention and helping employees and organizations become stronger.

Prior to Manulife, she worked at the Occupational Health and Safety Agency for Healthcare in BC and the University of British Columbia as a researcher in workplace mental health. She’s a lead author of the Best Practices for Return-to-Work/Stay-at-Work Interventions for Workers with Mental Health Conditions.

1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019

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This article is for your information and education purposes only. If you’re struggling with a mental health or family issue, please contact a licensed therapist or health professional.  

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