Impact of COVID-19  |  Supporting Children

Supporting a Child Who is Distressed by COVID-19


24 June 2020  |   4 min read

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented many challenging circumstances for our children to cope with. Some may be worried about themselves or loved ones contracting the virus, while others may be concerned if they are sufficiently prepared for school exams. Some may simply feel frustrated, feeling that they are cooped up at home. Whichever the case, it is important for parents to know that you play an essential role in supporting your children and helping them adjust to these changes. Here are five tips to take with you when trying to support your children if they are experiencing COVID-19 related distress.

1. Build your child’s understanding of COVID-19

What is COVID-19? How does it spread? And what are the steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of being infected? Parents have the responsibility to ensure that their children are accurately informed about the virus. This includes reminding them to maintain good hygiene practices (e.g. washing hands with soap and water regularly, wearing a mask when going out, sneezing or coughing into the elbow). In doing so, you empower your children to feel more prepared about how they can protect themselves and others from this infection.

2. Understanding that worry and anxiety may be expressed in your child’s behaviour

While you may have a basic understanding of COVID-19, you may not have all the answers to complex questions such as how long it will take before a vaccine is found, or when your ‘normal’ life can be resumed. This uncertainty can be unsettling and may bring about feelings of worry and anxiety.

When children are worried or stressed, they may not always express it verbally. Instead, these feelings may show up in other ways. For instance, their sleep or appetite may be affected, they may be more irritable than usual, or complain of physical symptoms such as stomachaches or headaches. Socially, they may withdraw from family or friends. If you notice such changes in your children’s behaviour, invite them to share their emotions or concerns when they feel ready to do so.

3. Acknowledge and validate your child’s experiences

When your children share their feelings and worries with you, acknowledge and validate their feelings of distress. This includes saying something encouraging to your children or reassuring them that you will be there to take care of them and support them the best you can.

Scale your expectations of your children’s academic performances, considering the changes in learning modes they had to adapt to.

4. Allow your children and yourself some time to adjust to changes in routines and schedules

COVID-19 has brought about sudden changes to communication, transportation, work and education. These have certainly not been easy for many of us, as we had to make changes quickly to the routines that we were once so familiar with to adapt to precautionary measures brought about by COVID-19. Changes can be stressful, and stress may lead to increased tensions at home.

However, just as there is a learning curve for every new and unfamiliar task you have undertaken before, similarly, you will need time to adapt to the COVID-19 circumstances. As such, it is helpful to set realistic expectations in your household. Parents should perhaps tell yourselves that there is no need to feel pressured to provide home-cooked food for your children every day. Scale your expectations of your children’s academic performances, considering the changes in learning modes they had to adapt to. It may also be useful to talk to your children about what to do when tensions are high at home, such as giving them and yourself personal space and quiet times to calm down, before coming back to resolve any disagreements.

5. Take care of yourself too! Honour your own needs.

Before you can think about creating a supportive environment for your children, you have to first take care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally. While there may be times that call for you to operate in “Supermom” or “Super Dad” mode, it is okay to recognise your limitations during this period and slow down when needed. In doing so, you are giving your mind and body the capacity to provide effective support for your children.

The contributors are an Associate Psychologist and a Principal Psychologist at the KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital.