Parent/Caregiver Guide to Helping Your Family Thrive During the  COVID-19 Outbreak

By : on : March 15, 2020 comments : (Comments Off on Parent/Caregiver Guide to Helping Your Family Thrive During the  COVID-19 Outbreak)

Life can be uncertain and we all know that can make any of us anxious. At times, world events bring forward greater uncertainty in our lives which can make us even more anxious than usual. The recent corona virus outbreak may be one of those times for many people. We have put together some suggestions on how you and your family can reduce stress and calm anxieties around the recent COVID-19 outbreak.

#1 Thing You Can Do For Your Children


  • Find Your Calm! – A chill parent is a chill child. Work out any worry you have first- before talking to your children. Children and youth take cues from their parents. Keep in mind all nonverbal communication can send a desired or undesired message to your child.. Children are not immune to the fear that is going on around them. They’ve likely already heard about COVID-19 and it’s important to correct the rumours that aren’t true, acknowledge their worries, and have a gameplan for how you’re going to talk to your kids about COVID-19.  SO, Reassure yourself first. Buffer stress with exercise, journal thoughts and feelings, make a safety plan, take a deep-breath, pet a puppy. Do all you can to stay calm before you talk to your kids. 


What You Should Know


  • Highlighting What Remains the Same is the Secret Sauce – Kids and youth thrive with routines and knowing what’s coming up next. With vacations, sporting events and public locations being closed, cancelled and/or postponed – with all the changes and all the information kids are hearing others talk about – we need to take specific care to talk about what’s the same: they wear the same pj’s, have the same friends, have the same pets, tell the same corny jokes, have the same playlists, same toothbrush, etc. This is obvious to us – but isn’t necessarily obvious to our young kids. For older youth, their use of social media will stay the same, it will continue to keep them connected to their peers and ensure Social Distancing.  It’s worth talking about what you do know about what’s going to happen and it’s worth talking about what is consistent and unchanging. We promise!


  • Make Sure Children Know What YOU ARE DOING to Keep Them Safe and Healthy- Ensuring you have hand-sanitizer or wipes in each car. Your family eating healthy, exercising and sleeping helps to keep them well. While practicing social distancing making choices to have family time indoors and staying connected with interactive family fun! And outdoors in nice open spaces, keeping lots of fun happening even though public events are cancelled for now. 


  • Make Sure Children Know What  THEY CAN DO to Keep Themselves Safe and Healthy – Make hand washing fun by washing  your hands to the count of happy birthday twice. Personal Health Bubbles are great reminders for kids to stay safe, by putting out your arms and twirl in a circle: this is your personal health bubble! make sure you stay out of other kids’ health bubbles and they stay outside of yours! Remember to keep your hands away from your eyes, nose, mouth and face. Practice social distancing and stay connected via social media (didn’t think we’d be encouraging this!) 


  • Have Age-Appropriate Discussions – Keep updated with what is happening with the outbreak through credible media sources and share with your kids only what they need to know based on their developmental level. Let your children know your family’s stay-safe plans, that there are lots of incredibly intelligent, highly-trained super scientist researchers working on a vaccine, and that even if there are big changes with school and events right now- it’s not permanent and that there will be an end to the outbreak.


  • Turn Off the News & Monitor Media Time – Mainstream news outlets offer us vital information, but the presentation of the information is purposely designed to keep us engaged – sometimes that is done through extremely dramatic wording and tone. Children and youth do not have the cognitive capabilities to filter or block out information on the news in the way adults can. The content presented on mainstream news is not maturationally appropriate for the majority of youth. If kids consume media meant for adults – no matter how fantastic their vocabulary is or how ‘mature’ they are – there is a high likelihood that doing so will increase their anxiety and in some cases can ignite panic. Be aware of- and limit- how much media coverage/social media time your children are exposed to during the outbreak.


  • It’s Not Going To Last Forever- as overwhelming or never-ending as it can feel right now, it’s important to remember that the outbreak will end. For now, we need to do what we can to work with the fear of the unknown. Being attuned to and dealing with this uncomfortableness is important- for your own well-being & your families. 


Ways to Cope with Stress


  • Seek support and continued connections from friends and family by talking to them on the phone, text, or other social media (especially about what’s going right, what you are grateful for and creative solutions to continue living your life!)


  • Minimize exposure to media outlets that might promote fear and panic


  • Focus on supporting children by encouraging questions and helping them understand the current situation
    • Talk about their feelings and validate them
    • Make it comfortable to have regular check-ins with your children
    • Provide comforting words and routines and a bit of extra patience


  • Keep your family’s schedule consistent- this includes bedtimes, mealtimes, and exercise


  • Make cookies, have a crazy hair day, play an ‘old school’ board game- help keep your family engaged in fun and meaningful activities that can lighten the mood. Positive action makes us feel more powerful, less fearful, and boosts our mood


  • Exercise in new and fun ways- have a dance party or try on online yoga at home with the whole family


  • Discuss how to think and talk about what we do know: Most people are safe! … and not what our ‘worry brains’ bother us with: What if we all catch this and don’t survive!?! What if we run out of food during the outbreak?!? What if this never ends?!?


  • GO OUTSIDE!! Research tells us that connecting with nature reduces stress and improves mood for all ages! Mindful nature walks, hide-and-seek, picnics in the park, scavenger hunts in the backyard … it’s all good!


Helping Children Cope



  • Patience & tolerance
  • Provide reassurance
  • Maintain regular family routines and lots of body movement
  • Avoid media exposure
  • Calming, comforting activities before bed
  • Lots of talk about what is good, what’s going right and what makes them happy

Age 6-12

  • Lots of play + connection with friends through the phone, texting, and internet
  • Encourage expression through play, art and/or discussions
  • Engage in educational activities to keep brain engaged
  • Exercise!!
  • Lots of talk about what is good, what’s going right and what makes them happy

Age 13-18

  • Encourage continuation of routines
  • Encourage connections with friends through the phone, texting, social media
  • Encourage evidence-based discussion of outbreak with peers & family (avoid gloom + doom fear-mongering and talk about how to spot it!)
  • Planning strategies to promote healthy behaviours
  • At least some talk about what is good, what’s going right and what makes them happy  🙂



(aka Dr Lisa Ferrari + Dr Carla Fry)

VPC Team


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