Helping children and young people while they are learning at home

Guidance for parents, caregivers and whānau

Children’s well-being is connected to your well-being

Helping children and young people cope with the changes caused by the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) means providing accurate information, discussing facts without causing undue alarm, and re-establishing routines.

You are an important role model for children and young people. Staying calm and enabling time and space to be together with children will help them adjust to this “new normal”.

Children and young people look to adults for guidance on how to react to stressful events. If parents or teachers seem overly worried, children’s and young people’s anxiety may rise. Parents and teachers can reassure children and young people that everyone is working together, from the Prime Minster down, to help people throughout the country stay healthy and to limit the spread of this virus.

Remember, COVID-19 may never come to your place or to your community. If you feel anxious, that’s a normal reaction to the new situation we all face. Children and young people notice when we are anxious. As a parent or teacher think about how your reactions could impact on the people around you. Take a quick break if things feel overwhelming, or notice and try some slow breathing, or concentrate on the sounds outside, anything that you know helps. You can express your feelings but base your words on facts and truth, and model how you want children and young people around you to behave. 

Your school is helping children continue their learning, online.  Keep children and young people engaged in activities at home and, wherever possible, remaining part of their usual routines. This will support their wellbeing, connection with others and their learning. If you need help with this, contact your school or your local Ministry of Education office.

Remain calm and reassuring

Your child will follow your lead. Here’s some tips on what you can say about the virus and what’s happening in New Zealand and what you can do to support their wellbeing.  

  • You can say yes, there are some people unwell with COVID-19 in New Zealand— which is the reality of a pandemic
  • We all need to work together and help each other. Schools are closed to stop the spread of the virus and we are self-isolating to help prevent our people getting sick and having to go to hospital
  • Most of the people who initially had the disease got this from overseas and are now getting better. That is why we have now closed the borders in New Zealand. We want to stop people with the disease entering New Zealand
  • Because there is some virus spread between people in New Zealand, everyone in the community is being especially careful to isolate now, to make sure as few people as possible get sick
  • It is important that everyone treats each other with respect, and not jump to conclusions about who may or may not have COVID-19.
  • Let’s keep up to date with the latest news — but not all the time though. When shall we check in with the latest news (once a day for this information)?
  • What else are you interested in? Let’s find out more about that together.
  • What messages are you hearing from your friends, let’s help them keep their focus on the important stuff, helping others, keeping in contact and keeping active, planning fun things.
  • Give permission to be online but decide on some limits.
  • If there is no one with the virus in your family, or in your community, and no one has had close contact with someone confirmed with COVID-19, emphasise to children and young people that they, their friends, teachers and your family are well.
  • Remind them that you and everyone in the community are helping to keep them safe and healthy. Create the space to enable children and young people talk about their feelings.
  • If they are feeling worried or anxious, you can support simple calming activities such as breathing exercises. This works for adults too, so feel free to join in.  Gently hold their thumb – have them breathe slowly in and out, count out loud, “ 1”,  move to their pointer finger – have them breathe slowly in and out, count “2”, move to their middle finger and repeat, count “3”, move across just one hand and count to “5”, or both hands to count to “10”.  Can they do it for you?  Sparklers has a range of calming activities for young children you could try link).
  • There are some great online apps for this as well. Get children or young people to explore these. For example Headspace link) has a range of things that help people keep calm and activities that help with sleep. Support them to share the helpful activities with their friends.
  • If a child or young person feels overwhelmed, or that things are feeling out of control, remember that offering simple choices or options can help, i.e. shall we do this, or this? Or would they like to use this, or that?  
  • Spend some time together - would they like to do a puzzle or listen while you read a story? For older children, allow time online for young people to positively connect with their friends.
  • If a child or young person feels overwhelmed, or that things are feeling out of control, remember that offering simple choices or options can help, i.e. shall we do this, or this? Or would they like to use this, or that?  
  • Spend some time together - would they like to do a puzzle or listen while you read a story? For older children, allow time online for young people to positively connect with their friends.

Information for kids

Dr Michelle Dickinson (Nanogirl) has a great informational video for kids about COVID-19.

Making yourself available

  • Children may need extra attention from you and may want to talk about their concerns, fears, and questions.
  • Making time for them will let them know they have someone who will listen to them.
  • Tell them you love them and give them plenty of affection. 

You know your children best. Let their questions be your guide as to how much information to provide. However, don’t avoid giving them the information that health experts identify as critical to ensuring your children’s health.

Children and young people do not always talk about their concerns readily, so they need your patience. Watch for clues that they may want to talk, such as hovering around while you do the dishes or work. It is very typical for younger children to ask a few questions, return to playing, then come back to ask more questions.  Often they will ask the same questions again and again as they try to make sense of things – keep your answers simple, truthful and age appropriate.  Children will be reassured by your consistent responses.

When sharing information, try to provide facts without promoting a high level of stress, remind children that adults are working to address this concern, and give children actions they can take to protect themselves.

Structure your days – one day at a time

If your routine has been shaken up, like you’re now working from home, it’s good to structure your time. Routines are reassuring, and promote health and physical wellbeing.

You can encourage children and young people to keep up with activities at home. Invite them to try different learning activities. These might be sent from school, be things they enjoy, or activities you decide together that would be good to do at home, but don’t push them if they seem overwhelmed.

Make the most of the reality of spending more time together as a family - establish new goals together, think about learning something new together and/or helping others who may be in need (while ensuring p[physical distancing boundaries and lockdown expectations).

Before you go to bed, write a list of five things you are going to do the next day — it will give you a framework to hang your day on, a way to keep moving forward and a sense of achievement at the end of each day.

Here’s an example of a routine for children:

Example daily Schedule

Before 9:00am

Wake up

Eat breakfast, make your bed, get dressed, put any dirty clothes in the laundry


Morning walk

Family walk with the dog, bike ride,

Yoga if it’s raining


Learning at home

School-led learning or Sudoku, books, flash cards, study guide, journal etc


Creative time

Legos, magna-tiles, drawing, crafting, play music, cook or bake etc.

12:00 pm

Lunch J


Helping at home

# wipe all kitchen tables and chairs

# wipe all door handles, light switches and desk tops

# wipe both bathrooms - sinks and toilets


Quiet time

Reading, puzzles, nap, radio NZ stories


Learning at home

School-led learning orIpad games, Prodigy, Educational show


Afternoon fresh air

Bikes, walk the dog, play outside


Dinner J


Free TV time

Kids shower time



All kids



All kids who follow the daily schedule & don’t fight

*Adapted from a resource developed by Jessica McHale Photography

Consider scheduling time to use social media and establish usage time parameters. There are apps that can help block you from certain sites at particular hours of the day or by tracking the amount of time you use social media.

Advice for teachers and parents about social media - NetSafe(external link)

Don’t forget to schedule time to exercise.  YogaGlo(external link) or videos from Yoga with Adriene(external link) or the Scientific 7-minute Workout(external link) programme also are good options.

Get young people to check out Hong Kong Academy, they ran a virtual sports day(external link), to help students stay active - can they think of ways they might do this?

Distance learning

Two online spaces went live recently: Learning from Home(external link) and Ki te Ao Mārama(external link). These websites have resources for parents and whānau, teachers and leaders spanning early learning through to senior secondary, and new material will be added to these over the coming weeks.

Coping with Isolation

Everyone will have different responses to being isolated. While some people will enjoy isolation others may find this trickier. If the thought of isolation is a big challenge for you, be proactive in staying connected. Here are ways to do that:

Online communities: While sticking to the social media routine (i.e. not over-excessive time online), find online communities that are sharing these experiences and check out how other communities around the world are getting together.  There are groups on WeChat, Facebook and WhatsApp that are just for parents and educators going through this. 

Colleague and Friend “Happy Hours”: Reconnecting with our friends and colleagues helps to boost our moods and will decrease our stress. Find that happiness once a week by scheduling a regular video call with your friends in the same situation.

You can play pictionary, charades or other group games, you can each make a meal around some sort of theme and then show it to each other and eat together no matter where you are. Whatever your style, create rituals together and don’t let the distance get in the way. 

Venting: When there are lots of changes in our lives we often also end up complaining. Complaining can be ok, it helps us express our emotions, helps our bonding, decreases our stress, and develops our perspective.

Be aware though for others, this complaining can become a bit much. So when we need to sort out our feelings and seek solutions, the key is to be aware of our motivation for complaining and think through the feelings we are having before making that call.

When you call a friend, take a few breaths and then ask yourself this: What do I hope to get out of this conversation? A solution? Understanding? Advice? Make sure you tell your friend what you need when you speak with them.

Show compassion, this builds everyone’s sense of hope

Show compassion to the people around you and encourage children and young people to do the same. And if there’s no-one around you, reach out. Send a thoughtful or upbeat text or snapchat to someone who might need one — or someone who might be on their own. Connect in positive and loving ways.

Avoid excessive blaming

When tensions are high, sometimes we try to blame someone. Check in with children and young people about what they may be are saying and model kindness and compassion:

  • Avoid stereotyping any one group of people as responsible for the virus.
  • Negative comments made toward others are hurtful. Let your school or early learning service know by email if these are happening, so they can also help.
  • Be aware of any comments that other adults are having around your family. You may have to explain what comments mean if they are different than the values that you have at home.

Monitor television viewing and social media

  • With all the changes it can be helpful to limit your own television viewing or access to information on the Internet and through social media. Try to avoid watching or listening to information that might be upsetting when children and young people are present.
  • Speak to children and young people about how many stories about COVID-19 on the Internet may be based on rumours and inaccurate information, and ways they can access factual information.

Review and model basic hygiene and healthy lifestyle practices for protection

Encourage children and young people to practice every day good hygiene—to prevent spread of illness:

  • Model handwashing frequently and reinforce this if you leave and/or return to the house.
  • Reinforce sneezing or coughing into the bend of their elbow, using tissues and throwing these away.
  • Practice giving fist or elbow bumps instead of handshakes. Fewer germs are spread this way.
  • Encourage children and young people to eat a balanced diet, get enough sleep, and exercise regularly; this will help them develop a strong immune system to fight off illness.
  • Discuss new rules or practices at home.
  • Keep in contact with your child’s school and let them know if there are any changes within your family. You should be able to contact them by email.

Helplines and information

Contact the dedicated COVID-19 number 0800 358 5453  for health advice and information if you have confirmed, probable or suspected COVID-19.

Helplines for children and young people

Youthline 0800 376633 or text 234

What’s up 0800 9428787

Parent support

Parent Help Line 0800 568856 link) 

Helplines and resources for everyone

Need to talk 1737 or text 1737 for counselling or support

Lifeline 0800 543354 or free text 4357 for counselling and support

Anxiety line 0800 111757 or free text 4202

Source: This information is adapted from A Parent Resource, National Association of School Psychologists, 2020(external link)

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