Helping children adjust to life after COVID-19 stay at home orders

By Dr. Sheila Modir, pediatric psychologist at CHOC

As communities navigate through re-opening efforts after shelter-in-place orders, it’s natural for adults and children alike to have mixed emotions about what is to come. Children tend to echo the feelings of their parents or caregivers. They will look to the adults in their lives for support and guidance on how to react to this new transition of going outside again, and whether they will continue to remain safe once they are away from the safety of their home. Although parents may not know all the answers to these questions, there are some things you can do to boost your child’s sense of emotional safety in order to help them navigate life as things slowly re-open.


Have an age-appropriate, open conversation with your child about what is going on with COVID-19 and why things are beginning to re-open.

  • Clarify any misinformation and provide them with the correct facts in a developmentally appropriate manner.
  • Limit information to the questions that they ask you, so that you avoid overwhelming them with information that they may not need to be privy to right now.
  • For teens, ask them what information they have read online or what their friends have told them about things re-opening
  • Ensure that your children understand ways to keep themselves safe in public, as well as the symptoms of COVID-19, so that they can feel a sense of agency in their world as they re-enter

Reassure safety

For children who are prone to higher levels of anxiety, transitions and change are difficult for them. It can be scary to go from staying at home all day — which had been associated with staying safe — to slowly reintegrating back into the world — which had been associated with people getting sick.

Remind your child about ways that everyone is working hard to keep them safe as things slowly re-open. For instance, your family helps keep each other safe by doing things like washing your hands and sneezing into your elbow rather than your hand. Doctors and nurses are working hard to save lives in the hospitals, people wear face masks when they go outside to protect each other, and schools are planning how to handle hygiene and social distancing once they re-open.

If your child is worried about you going back to work, tell them about all the ways that your work is keeping you safe. If your child is worried about getting sick if they go outside, remind them of all the ways you have taken care of them in the past when they have gotten sick. You can let them know that most sick people are recovering, and many children are not getting sick.

Establish routines

If you child’s daycare or school is opening, it is important to remind them of what their daily schedule used to be when they were going to school. If you are going back to work, collaborate with them to create a new schedule of what their days will look like while you are at work. Reviewing their schedule can help them anticipate what to expect and will also provide them with structure and predictability during a period of transition and change.

If your child’s routine at school or daycare will change, review this new change with them often, so that they can mentally prepare for it.

Explain and model emotion regulation

Explain to your child that feelings are normal, and it is OK to feel scared, anxious, worried or excited about things re-opening and people going back to work. Avoid dismissing their fears by saying things like, “Don’t stress about all of this.” Instead, you can model for your child how to express these emotions in a healthy manner. For example, you can tell your child, “I am also worried about going back to work, but whenever I get worried I talk to your aunt because she’s a good listener, then I take three deep breaths, and I think of all the people that are working hard to keep me safe.”

Limit media exposure

Repeated exposure to the news has been found to increase distress and intensify already heightened emotions. It’s also important to be mindful of conversations you have with other adults about COVID-19, as children may listen and misinterpret things said. Here’s more advice on monitoring news and social media intake during COVID-19v.

Be aware of emotional cues

The experience of a pandemic has been traumatic for many children. Being aware of your child’s emotional cues can be helpful in knowing when they are experiencing distress.

Some signs and symptoms of distress are a normal part of adjusting to a transition — such as changes in your child’s sleep or appetite — and will subside as your child adapts. However, when these signs and symptoms begin to interfere with a child’s ability to function, consider contacting a mental health professional.

Here are signs and symptoms of pediatric traumatic stress

Preschool and young child

  • Increase in crying and/or screaming
  • Difficulty falling asleep on their own and/or increase in nightmares
  • Increase in separation anxiety from caregivers
  • Engaging in regressive behaviors such as losing their speech, toileting skills, or eating poorly

School-age children

  • Feelings of anxiety, sadness and fearfulness
  • Constant worries about their safety and safety of others
  • Acting clingy
  • Somatic complaints such as stomachaches or headaches
  • Impaired concentration
  • Difficulty sleeping


  • Feelings of anxiety, depression and loneliness
  • Engagement in risky behaviors such as self-harming, using substances or restrictive eating
  • Increase in argumentative behaviors
  • Isolation
  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
  • On edge much of the time or easily irritable

Resources for parents

Helpful Books

Children’s books that can be helpful when discussing worries and emotions around transitions and changes.

  • “The Kid’s Guide to Staying Awesome and In Control” by Lauren Brukner
  • “The Invisible String” by Patrice Karst
  • “Wilma Jean the Worry Machine” by Julia Cook
  • “What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety” by Dawn Huebner

Understanding the role of cultural stigma on seeking mental health services

By Dr. Sheila Modir, pediatric psychologist; Baleska Alfaro, licensed marriage and family therapist; and Dr. Ava Casados and Dr. Sarah Ruiz, post-doctoral fellows at CHOC

For some people, making an appointment with a mental health provider may be a personal and independent decision. For others, the decision to seek therapy services may be influenced by their culture or community, as each culture has its own understanding, interpretation and beliefs around mental health symptoms.

Our own culture also teaches us ways to cope with distress and whom to rely on for support during difficult times. This may impact whether a person seeks mental health services and treatment, or their decision not to seek care at all.

In many cultures, negative stigma about mental health symptoms or therapy services is a major obstacle to getting professional help. Research shows that people in racial and ethnic minority groups in the U.S. are less likely than White people to seek outpatient therapy services. Many ethnic minority groups are more comfortable going to their primary care physicians or family members for assistance with mental health symptoms as opposed to speaking with a mental health provider. We all want to be accepted by our communities, and sometimes fear of shame or embarrassment prevents people from seeking mental health treatment.

For instance, Black families may be understandably reluctant to seek mental health therapy due to the longstanding history of discrimination, racism and mistreatment the Black community has experienced at the hands of providers in the U.S. Instead, they tend to take an active approach in handling adversities independently and directly. They also tend to rely more on spiritual resources for emotional support. While these beliefs and approaches are valid, overly negative views of therapy can keep children who do need a higher level of care from getting that help.

Studies show that Latinx (a gender neutral reference to a person of Latin American cultural or ethnic identity in the U.S.) families are also less likely to trust mental health providers compared to White families and are more likely to rely on social support from extended family and other community members. When Latinx individuals do tell others about their experiences with stress or emotional difficulties, they often focus on physical symptoms such as trouble sleeping or loss of appetite and are less likely to discuss the thoughts or feelings that are bothering them.

For Asian American and Middle Eastern American communities, cultural beliefs that seeking mental health treatment will bring shame and dishonor to the family leads some people to internalize their symptoms instead of seeking therapy. Many Asian American children have described feeling pressured to appear perfect and successful, and therefore keep their symptoms secret. For Middle Eastern American adolescents, research has found that they tend to seek support from other family and religious community members.

While these beliefs and approaches are valid, overly negative views of therapy can keep children who do need a higher level of care from getting that help.

These examples are broad, but they illustrate just a few of the reasons why ethnic minority children are much less likely to receive therapy when they need it. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the mental and medical health system to make services more accessible to under-served families, and to spark change to counteract myths about the stigma of mental health symptoms and mental health treatment. Parents can also play an important role in examining their family’s own cultural beliefs about treatment and identifying ways to advocate for their children to get expert help whenever they need it.

How our community can end mental health stigma

So, how do we, as parents, healthcare professionals and the community begin to work on eliminating the stigma surrounding mental health disorders and accessing mental health services? After all, one in five children experiences a mental health disorder.

Here are some tips that can help our children and families feel more comfortable with identifying, discussing, managing and accessing services for mental health.

Seek reliable information

A first step that we can take to end mental health stigma is to seek out reliable and accurate information about mental health disorders, treatment options and resources in our community. Trusted sources can include, but are not limited to:

When speaking to children about mental health, use resources that are age-appropriate and engaging. A young child may find books helpful, while an older child may prefer to get information online. Look over resources with your child to help them find reputable sources of information and avoid popular social media platforms as your only source of information. Not sure how to start? Here are a few resources for kids:

Use appropriate language

The resources listed above can help you understand how to talk to your children about mental health issues, as well as how to dispel mental health myths they might have heard about conditions and treatment. Using correct language can reduce any shame or guilt you or your family and friends may have about mental health and can create a space that makes it easier for children and teens to speak openly about their own struggles and seek help.

Celebrities normalizing mental health conditions

Because so many people live with and manage symptoms related to a mental health condition, it isn’t hard to find a celebrity or well-known public figure your child admires who has a mental health condition. We can use celebrity or public figure examples to help normalize mental health conditions and access to mental health treatment. Our children will be more open to discussing their mental health condition and to trying out mental health services if they know that their favorite singer, actor or athlete also lives with a mental health condition.

Learn to explain your child’s mental health condition to your support system and community

Once we have accurate information about our child’s mental health condition and treatment plan, it could help to share this information. If we share information about mental health with our families, schools or places of worship, as well as other members of our support system, they can each better understand the child’s mental health and how they manage symptoms. Sharing information can also help increase empathy and support for the child’s well-being.

Seek support in your community

Children and teens with mental health conditions may not know anyone else with a similar diagnosis, which can impact their self-esteem. For teens especially, finding support from an online community may be a helpful way to openly speak about their mental health condition. Parents may also benefit from knowing other parents with children who have mental health conditions, as this can allow families to find a sense of community or support. Your local National Alliance on Mental Illness chapter offers peer support groups for parents and individuals with mental health conditions.


Engaging in advocacy is another way that parents and community members can help break down mental health stigma. Organizations like National Alliance on Mental Illness engage in advocacy and policy change using individual’s stories. Advocacy can help raise awareness about important mental health issues and help dispel myths and break down stigma. It could also have positive impacts for those who are engaging in advocacy, helping to develop a sense of solidarity and common purpose.

How to talk to kids about racism

By Dr. Ava Casados, psychology postdoctoral fellow at CHOC and Dr. Sheila Modir, pediatric psychologist at CHOC

 As we grapple with recent events, we are all likely experiencing a range of feelings. Regardless of our background, we are processing a lot of information. While we as adults are finding it challenging to know what to do or say, children may be even more affected. Children often turn into little detectives to figure out what adults are worried or upset about, and they question why the news keeps focusing on certain topics and stories.

As a family, you may be thinking about how to talk to your child about current events, race and racism.

Though difficult, talking with children about the value of diversity and need for racial equality is important. This is true regardless of whether stories of injustice and racial violence are in the news or not.

Children of all races and ethnicities have questions about race and racism, so these conversations can be valuable in every household. Research shows that children can internalize racial bias as early as two years and have opinions about race before starting kindergarten. It is never too soon to start the conversation.

These are hard topics to discuss, and parents may be wondering how to talk to kids about racism. There is no single perfect way to do this, but a few suggestions are listed below to help you get started. It is likely we may experience some strong feelings as we think about how to talk to kids about racism, perhaps as we look at resources listed at the bottom of this article.

How to start a conversation about racism with kids

  • Starting the conversation can be hard. Just know that starting the conversation and feeling uncomfortable is better than not having the conversation at all.
  • Asking open-ended questions can be helpful, especially with older children. These questions can be woven into other conversations you have with your child. You can ask questions such as,
    • “What do you think our family values are about people who are different from us?”
    • “What are ways speech and actions can hurt people?”
    • “What have you heard about racism and racial bias?”
    • “What is free speech and what do you think that means?”
  • Particularly with the events in the news, ask children what they may have heard and how they are feeling right now. Let children have the space to talk. They may be fearful; they may want to do something; they may be sad or angry. All of these feelings are OK, and you can let your child know that.

Tips for talking to kids about racism

  • Before you start a conversation, you can look at the links below, so you can feel prepared.
  • You don’t have to plan one large conversation that addresses everything. Think of it as a series of conversations.
  • Taking a “colorblind” approach including statements like, “I don’t see race” can cause people who DO experience racism to feel as if you do not see that racism is a problem. Instead, acknowledge that racism is real and present in everyday life and celebrate the value of diversity by going to museums and events that expose your child to cultures other than your own.
  • Limit exposure to violent media and videos. While we do want to acknowledge the reality of racial violence, we also know that children do not need to see videos of violence in order to know it’s there. Watching these videos directly, or even hearing detailed descriptions of the videos, can be traumatizing to children. It can also traumatize us as adults and make it more difficult to talk to our children.
  • Be open to learning and model that learning to children. You do not need to have the “right” answer to every question, but you can show children that you are interested in learning and seeking answers together.
  • Leave space for anger and sadness. Often, we want to protect children from negative emotions, but anger and sadness are natural responses when children —or adults! — see violence and injustice in their communities. Let children know it’s OK for them to feel this way.
  • While these issues are often not something that we can completely address in a single conversation, we can show children that there are steps that we can take together to respond to injustice. Help children channel emotions into actions such as writing letters, creating art and volunteering.
  • Children learn about the world through the media they view, and oftentimes, the media only shows images of black and brown people as criminals or victims. Be mindful of the images your child is seeing and seek out movies, images and stories that show people of color as strong, intelligent and capable.

Open a developmentally appropriate dialogue

When discussing an important topic like racism with children, we want to make sure we are using developmentally appropriate language so that they are able to fully comprehend a big and meaningful topic. Also remember these conversations offer you an opportunity to learn from and with your child. Here are tips on how to talk to kids about racism in a developmentally appropriate way:

2-7 years old

At this stage, children watch and imitate other people’s behaviors. As parents, modeling and embodying an attitude of respect toward others is critical. Children at this stage are also more aware of physical differences among themselves and their peers and may comment on it. This can offer you an opportunity to celebrate differences.

7 to 11 years old

Children in this stage engage in logical thinking and continue to be quite literal and concrete in how they perceive the world. Because of this, parents can have an open conversation with their child about what is right versus wrong and fair versus unfair.

12 years and older

In this stage, adolescents and young adults can engage in abstract thinking and are now able to consider moral dilemmas, philosophical and ethical issues, and may take on a sociopolitical stance. Finding shared ways to make a difference is important and is an opportunity for you to model to your adolescent how to respond appropriately and effectively when incidences of injustices occur.

Resources for talking to children about race and racism

How living through a pandemic like COVID-19 can affect children’s mental health

By Dr. Heather Huszti, chief psychologist at CHOC, and
Dr. Sheila Modir, pediatric psychologist at CHOC

Taking care of your mental health, and your children’s mental health, is particularly important during a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic we’re currently living through.

There are many possible risk factors affecting children during this time that can lead to mental health distress:

  • Shelter in place orders and disruption in former routines
  • Loss of family from COVID-19
  • Loss of family income
  • Virtual schooling
  • Lack of access to peers
  • Possible violence in the home

These risk factors can compound existing mental health conditions or bring on new mental health challenges.

A study published by the Society for Disaster Medicine and Public Health polled families who faced isolation due to SARS or H1N1 and found that 30% of children met criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) per parent report. This rate was higher among children who received no mental health services and those whose parents had been isolated because of these diseases. If parents had anxiety or PTSD, their children were more likely to be impacted on a mental health level as well.

Research is emerging that suggests adults are struggling with increased mental health problems during the current COVID-19 pandemic. It also shows that many parents are worried about how to help their children’s mental health. These resources can help:

What happens when we are isolated

Research conducted by Australian psychologist and researcher Kimberley Norris found that when people are isolated due to a pandemic, they tend to cycle through different phases of emotion. How we feel and act can vary in these phases based on our age and other factors, but generally the cycle follows this pattern:

  • Confusion – panic-buying, seeking clarity over regulations, or kids feeling unsure why they can’t see their friends at school anymore
  • Honeymoon – finding a routine, adapting to work from home changes, feeling a sense of community
  • Resentment – feeling cooped up or sick of wearing masks
  • Reunion – the phase where we start to step out of isolation and may feel a rollercoaster of emotions. This could be, “I’m scared to get sick but I’m happy to go to the beach.”
  • Reintegration – back to functioning normally in society

Through self-isolating and sheltering in place, we as clinicians worry that people in our community may not feel comfortable seeking the mental healthcare they need. However, telehealth is available and mental health sessions can be conducted from the safety of your home. Here’s advice on deciding where to go for physical healthcare during COVID-19.

The impact of trauma on children during COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic is a new mass trauma that can impact children’s mental health both now and later in life. This trauma will likely exacerbate existing mental health conditions and contribute to new stress-related illnesses.

If the signs and symptoms of trauma are left untreated, they can have a lasting impact on the child’s emotional, behavioral and physical well-being.

Signs and symptoms of trauma in children can include:

  • Depression and/or anxiety
  • Regression behaviors such as loss of toileting skills
  • Increase in separation anxiety
  • Changes in sleep, eating and school performance
  • Engagement in risky behaviors
  • Loss of interest in friends and/or activities
  • Isolation
  • Defiance

Tips for building resilience to mitigate the impact of trauma

There are a number of things parents can do to help children build resilience needed to thrive during this chaotic time, as well as help mitigate the impact of trauma. Resilient children tend to be happier, more motivated and engaged, more confident, and adopt a more positive attitude as they encounter more challenging situations. Here are some ideas to try in your own home:

Making a schedule

Whether times are uncertain or not, all children benefit from having a routine in place. Following a schedule provides consistency, structure and predictability. When we don’t know what the world is going to throw at us next, building in some routine and predictability serves as a buffer from the outside chaos.

Emotion identification

Today is a great day for a family movie night, and what movie does a better job of describing the internal world of a child than Pixar’s “Inside Out”? Consider making a family fort and gathering your favorite movie snacks. After the movie, grab some markers and paper and have your child draw what recent feelings they have experienced. What does that feeling look like? What would it say if it could talk? What does that feeling need to feel better or safe?

Coping skills

There are different ways to manage big emotions that children feel.

  • Deep breathing – This will help the child calm and self-soothe. Breathe in for 3 seconds, hold it for 3 seconds, and release it for 3 seconds.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation – Tense your muscles as you breathe in, and then relax them as you breathe out. This will help you identify in the future times of stress when you feel tense, and you can use deep breathing skills to help relax your body.
  • Grounding – Bring your attention to the present moment using your five senses. For example, name five things you see in the room, four things you feel, three things you hear, etc.

Family coping box

A coping box can include tools that different family members can utilize when feeling stressed. The family box should be located somewhere that everyone can access it easily. Consider items such as a soft stuffed animal, word searches, a book of yoga poses, fidget toys or stress balls.

Conflict resolution

Stay at home orders can mean tight quarters, which can naturally lead to disagreements. Establish communication rules for your family, like using “I” statement to express how you feel, not interrupting each other, and taking a timeout when things get heated.


Science has shown that the power of thought can change how we feel and lead to changes in those around us. One example of practicing mindfulness is a loving-kindness meditation. Since we can’t be with many of our loved ones right now, we can send them kindness and well wishes instead. Close your eyes, imagine the person or pet you care about and say aloud or silently, “May you be safe. May you be healthy and strong. May you be happy. May you be peaceful and at ease.”


Research has found that teaching gratitude to children increases their happiness, optimism and generosity. Encourage your children to keep a gratitude journal and to write three things every day they are grateful for. At the end of the week, everyone can share their reflections.

How to teach kids resilience throughout COVID-19

A week’s worth of activities for parents and children to grow resilience and cope together

By Dr. Sheila Modir, pediatric psychologist at CHOC

It is normal to feel anxious or worried about what is to come during this time of uncertainty due to COVID-19. Situations like these can be stressful for everyone in a family. Now more than ever, we need to help our children navigate these difficult obstacles and adversities and build their resilience.

Resilience is our ability to thrive or bounce back after a stressful situation. The good news is that resilience can be taught. Resilient children tend to be happier, more motivated and engaged, and adopt a more positive attitude about difficult or challenging situations. As a parent, you can help promote your child’s emotional well-being by engaging them in an environment full of opportunities to learn helpful skills to becoming resilient. Resilient skills can include:

  • Emotion identification
  • Emotion regulation
  • Coping skills
  • Practicing mindfulness
  • Expressing gratitude

Here’s an outline for how you can spend one week focusing on resilience-building for you and your child:

Monday: Making a schedule

Whether times are uncertain or not, all children benefit from having a routine in place. Following a schedule provides consistency, structure and predictability. When we don’t know what the world is going to throw at us next, building in some routine and predictability serves as a buffer from the outside chaos. Collaborating with your child to create a weekly family schedule could give them an appropriate level of control and influence in their world.

Here are some things to consider when you sit down with your child to create this schedule:

  • Establish nap and bedtimes to ensure that the necessary amount of sleep that a child needs is provided even if they don’t have school the next day. This routine will also ease the transition when schools do reopen.
  • Build in times for healthy snacks and meals
  • A few 15-minute intervals of fun (and silly) physical activity and stretches each day
  • Homework time
  • 30-60 minutes for the resilience-building activities listed below (Tuesday-Sunday)
  • Have each member of your family share five self-care activities they enjoy and add them to the schedule for the week. For example, doing a puzzle, reading a book, coloring, walking, digging for worms in your backyard, planting flowers or writing in your journal.

Tuesday: Emotion identification

Today is a great day for a family movie night, and what movie does a better job of describing the internal world of a child than Pixar’s “Inside Out? Consider making a family fort and gathering your favorite movie snacks. After the movie, grab some markers and paper and have your child draw what recent feelings they have experienced. What does that feeling look like? What would it say if it could talk? What does that feeling need to feel better or safe?

Another art activity is to have your child draw out the many faces of emotions, such as, what does a grumpy face look like to them? A sleepy face? A calm face? Draw up to 10 faces and write out the emotion underneath the face. Or, look through magazines and cut out various facial expressions that they see and label them. Does the person in this photo look sad? Does the person in the car look happy? We call these “Feeling Faces.” Children who can identify their emotions adjust better to challenges and are able to communicate their needs effectively.

Brainstorm as a family where to hang up these faces in an easy-to-see place, like on the refrigerator or next to the TV. Refer to your “Feeling Faces” throughout the week by setting an example like, “I am feeling sleepy today because I didn’t sleep too well last night. How are you feeling?” or “It makes me sad when you say mean things to me.”  You can have the child point to the “Feeling Face” that they are experiencing if they are not ready to verbally label it.

Wednesday: Coping skills

Today is the day to practice different ways to manage big emotions!

Deep breathing

 Deep breathing is an important coping skill for children and parents. There are several great apps and videos available online demonstrating how to practice deep breathing with your child — such as the Calm app, the Headspace app or the Virtual Hope Box app. However, there’s ways to practice these coping skills without technology. Some ideas include:

  • Practice belly breathing with your child by blowing bubbles or making a pinwheel together and watching it spin by taking a deep breath and releasing it slowly toward the pinwheel. You can also pretend your fingers are birthday candles and have your child take a deep breath to blow out the imaginary candles.
  • Sit back to back with your child and practice deep breaths. You can talk about how you are able to feel each other breathe, and then practice syncing your breaths!
  • Don’t forget to model for them sharing how you felt before and after deep breathing and asking them to do the same with their newly drawn “Feeling Faces.”

Progressive muscle relaxation

 When we get stressed, we tend to experience muscle tension. Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is a great way for children and adults to manage stress and relieve muscle tension by tensing and releasing different parts of their body one by one. There are free PMR scripts online to read aloud, as well as free guided online videos. An example  PMR script is included at the end of this article. A creative way to teach children PMR is by telling them that you are making the muscles in their bodies go from hard, uncooked spaghetti into relaxed cooked noodles.  


 (No, not the kind where someone got in trouble.) Grounding is any activity that brings your attention to the present moment. One of the best and most readily available ways to do that is to use your five senses (see, touch, hear, smell and taste). You can call it a five senses scavenger hunt! Prompts include asking your child:

  • What are five things you see in this room?
  • What are four things you feel (i.e., I feel my scrunchie around my wrist)?
  • What are three things you hear (inside or outside of the room)?
  • What are two things you smell?
  • What is one thing you taste?

Another form of grounding is mental grounding. Examples include:

  • Counting backward from 100 by intervals of 1, 2, 3, 7, etc.
  • Naming as many colors or states you can in 60 seconds, or
  • Reciting lyrics to your favorite song.

Plan throughout the day to practice this skill with each other, especially when someone is starting to feel stressed or anxious. If you are worrying about the future, then the present is where you can do something about it!

Thursday: Family coping box

Grab a shoe box and some construction paper and start building a family coping box. A coping box can include tools that different family members can utilize when feeling stressed. The family box should be located somewhere that everyone can access it easily. Decorate the outside of the box and begin identifying items you all would like to place in the box. You can even refer to your five senses and include items that feel soft, taste good or smell soothing. Here are some other ideas:

  • A soft stuffed animal
  • Word searches
  • A pleasant-smelling candle or lotion
  • A book of yoga poses
  • Chewing gum
  • Play dough
  • A list of songs that bring joy
  • Fidget toys
  • Stress balls
  • A bottle of bubbles
  • A pinwheel

You can also go online for free printable visual calming tools to include in the coping box. In addition to a family coping box, children may also like to make their own coping box and keep it in their bedroom. Encourage your child to use the coping box when they are starting to feel agitated, stressed, sad, mad or restless.

Friday: Conflict resolution and accessing social support

With many adults working remotely and children home from school, you might feel like you’re living in tight quarters right now. Under these circumstances, it is natural for disagreements and conflicts to occur. One way to manage conflict is to establish communication rules. A handout on these communication techniques is included at the end of this article.

  • First, check in with yourself and identify what you feel upset about. Are you upset about one thing that has happened or a couple of things that have piled together?
  • Bring it up to the person you are upset with and make sure to discuss one issue at a time. For example, “I am upset that I have been washing all the dishes every day.”
  • Be careful to not use degrading or derogatory language and to not raise your voice. The goal here is to have a productive and healing conversation.
  • Use “I” statements when expressing how you feel so you are taking responsibility for your feeling. For example, say “I feel hurt when…” or “I felt disappointed when…” instead of saying “You made me mad…”
  • Be mindful of not interrupting each other. You can set a one-minute timer to let everyone have their time to speak.
  • Take a timeout when things start getting heated. Identify a length of time you need a break for, so the other person knows you are planning on returning to the conversation. For example, “I am feeling overwhelmed right now and need a 15-minute break from this conversation.”
  • Remember that you are working toward a compromise or at least a shared understanding of the situation, so go into this conversation with that mindset.

Another way of teaching your child conflict resolution skills is to teach them when and how to ask for help. Feeling connection is very important during this time. Children are now isolated away from people who they might have normally confided in — whether it’s friends, other family members or their teachers. How can parents help their children know when to ask them or their siblings for help? Starting a conversation and making a family helping plan together could be one way. You can have each person write out who they would go to when they are feeling mad, sad, happy or anxious. You can say they can go to anyone, and maybe there is a specific person in the family that understands a certain emotion better. They can even call or FaceTime with a specific person that isn’t in the home or talk to a pet if the dog is someone that brings comfort to them! You could also make a “Connections Calendar” and include windows of 10-15 minutes of your child’s time to connect with someone on their social support list, like a grandparent or a friend. Get creative because we may be staying inside for a while and who we can turn to for support during this time is important.

Saturday: Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a powerful tool to help us slow down, pay attention and be fully present in the moment. Sometimes this can be tough to teach to a child, so we want to make sure we manage our expectations, but there are also creative ways to help them understand helpful components of mindfulness.

The idea is that our attention is a muscle, and we want to practice strengthening it. When we choose where we want to put our attention, it gives us greater opportunity to then choose how we want to think about something. When something like COVID-19 makes our physical world a lot smaller, it can be comforting to exercise what is in our control.

  • Sit on the floor facing your child. You can sit on a cushion or pillow. You can use a bell or a singing bowl (there are free ones online) to call your child into focus and attention. Encourage your child to listen to the bell until it is no longer chiming or singing. It may only last a few seconds, but those few seconds of their complete attention is very powerful. Make it a game and have them raise their hand when they can’t hear it anymore and see who has the better hearing.
  • Make time for a mindful walk. Mindful walking around the house is a walk where you notice every step you are taking. You notice how the floor feels under your feet, how your legs feel as they move, and what noises you hear around you as you take each step slowly. Pay as much attention as you can to the experience. Remember to ask how they are feeling before and after the activity to see how and if the activity made a difference for them.
  • Eat a snack mindfully. Or, maybe just the first bite of a snack! For example, if the snack is an apple slice, have your child examine the apple as if they are an alien from outer space seeing an apple slice for the first time. What does it look like? What does it feel like? What does it smell like? Does light shine through it? Take a small bite but don’t swallow just yet. What is this bite like? Chew slowly. Take it all in. Talk about that bite afterward. What are new things they have discovered about the apple?
  • Finally, my favorite mindfulness activity is loving-kindness meditation. It is the practice of sending positive thoughts and wishes to yourself and others. It is an especially powerful meditation right now. Since we can’t be with many of the people who we love, we can send them kindness and well wishes instead. Close your eyes, imagine the person or pet you care about and say aloud or silently, “May you be safe. May you be healthy and strong. May you be happy. May you be peaceful and at ease.” These wishes can also be sent to yourself. Have your child pick four wishes they would like to send and practice saying these with them. We can also send these wishes to people all over the world who we don’t know, but who are also experiencing the impact of COVID-19. Science has shown that the power of thought can change how we feel and lead to changes in those around us, so if we engage in positive thinking, we can find ourselves and others around us in a positive mood!

Sunday: Gratitude

To end the weekend on a good note, let’s engage in practicing gratitude for all the things we have and get to experience. Research has found that teaching gratitude to children increases their happiness, optimism and generosity. Some gratitude activities include:

  • Start a new family tradition before each meal by having family members say one new thing for which they are grateful. For example, “I am grateful that this morning Mom helped me find a YouTube video.”
  • Encourage your child to keep a gratitude journal and to write three things every day they are grateful for. At the end of the week, everyone can share their reflections.
  • Grab a few mason jars or tissue boxes and have each person decorate the outside of theirs, including their names. Use strips of paper and markers or pens and have each family member writes five positive things about everyone in your family and put it in their gratitude jar or box. Some inspiration can include empowering quotes that remind you of that person, things you are grateful for about that person, or a positive memory with them. Pull out a strip of paper from your gratitude jar/box on particularly tough days when you need some extra encouragement.
  • Pick out or create your own empowering mantras or positive affirmations and write them down. Place them somewhere visible in the house. Practice reciting them to yourself. My personal favorites are, “This too shall pass,” “With change comes opportunity,” and “I will be OK.”

It is important to note that while you engage in all of these activities with your child, make sure to have it be a technology-free time, where cell phones and tablets are placed on silent and you are providing your child with your full attention. Listen and reflect on what your child is saying while engaged in the exercises. When your child says, “Mom, I am using the red marker to draw a red, mad face!” you can respond by saying, “You’re picking the red marker to draw your mad face.” Provide praises throughout the activity because who doesn’t feel good when their positive behaviors are being noticed? You can use unlabeled praises like, “Good job!” or labeled praises like, “Good job drawing all your different faces!”

Feel free to continue to repeat elements of this weeklong schedule as many times as you want. You can advance to different “Feeling Faces,” add new items to the coping box, and practice mindfulness and gratitude daily. The reinforcement of these skills is what helps make it stick for children, so the more practice, the more we are increasing their resilience — or their capability of taking on challenging situations.

Additional resources 

Here are additional tools that I often recommend to my patients and their families.

Books that teach resilience

  • “Bee Still: An Invitation To Meditation” by Frank J. Sileo
  • “Grow Happy” by Jon Lasser and Sage Foster-Lasser
  • “The Hugging Tree: A story About Resilience” by Jill Neimark
  • “Today I Feel Silly: And Other Moods That Make My Day” by Jamie Lee Curtis