Tips for parents, teachers and caregivers – supporting children

Supporting children after COVID-19.

After a period of lockdown and disruption, our feelings of safety can be undermined. Reassure children that you are looking forward to the restrictions lifting as it is safe to be in the community and at school. Re-establish your daily routines for going to school or to work and comforting your child when needed. 

Helping children feel safe takes time, patience and reassurance from the important adults in their lives. When children are scared, they also want to be with people who help them feel safe and they might worry when they are not together.  Children can become confused and fearful when changes happen and when they don’t understand the changes. Take time to listen. Check in about their feelings, and acknowledge and normalise these.

How do children react and what should I do?

All children are different and will show stress in different ways. When children show signs of stress it is common to revert to behaviours they may have previously grown out of eg, sucking their thumb, becoming clingy or having tantrums, not wanting to go back to school.

How children react will depend on what’s changing in their daily lives, what they are hearing, how you are reacting, and the support and comfort you are able to provide.

The table below lists some common concerns or issues experienced by children and how parents, caregivers or teachers can respond:

Concern/issue

Responses

Tips 

Confusion about what is happening and why.

Give clear explanations of what is happening whenever your child asks. Avoid details that might scare your child. Correct any information that your child is unclear or confused about. Remind children that there are people working to keep schools, parent and whānau safe and that your family/whānau can get more help if needed. Let your children know what they can expect to happen next.

 

Say, “We need to keep practicing hand hygiene, we don’t share our food or water bottles and we watch how we interact with our friends by not getting too close. This means we still have to keep a physical distance when we can from people’s faces and hands. Let’s practice giving that different high five with our elbows”

Continue to answer questions your children have to reassure them the family/whānau is safe.

Tell them what’s happening, especially about issues regarding school, sport or their community. 

 

Concern/issue

Responses

Tips

Fear of being overwhelmed by their feelings.

Provide a safe place for them to express their fears, anger, sadness, and other emotions. Allow children to cry or be sad. Don’t expect them to be brave or tough.

 

Say, “When scary things happen, people have strong feelings like being mad at everyone or being very sad. Would you like to sit here with a blanket until you’re feeling better?”

Sleep problems including bad dreams, fear of sleeping alone, demanding to sleep with parents.

Let your child tell you about the bad dream. Explain that bad dreams are normal and they will go away. Do not ask the child to go into too many details of the bad dream. Temporary sleeping arrangements are okay; make a plan with your child to return to normal sleeping habits. 

Say, “That was a scary dream. Let’s think about some good things you can dream about and I’ll rub your back until you fall asleep. You can stay in our bedroom for the next couple of nights. Then we will spend more time with you in your bed before you go to sleep. If you get scared again, we can talk about it.”

 

Concern/issue

Responses

Tips

Altered behaviour.  Unusually aggressive or restless.

Encourage your child to safely engage in recreational activities and exercises as an outlet for feelings and frustration.

Say, “I know you didn’t mean to slam that door. It must be hard to feel so angry. How about we take a walk? Sometimes getting our bodies moving helps with strong feelings.” 

Complaints, such as headaches, stomach aches, muscle aches for which there seem to be no reason.

Find out if there is a medical reason. If not, provide comfort and assurance that this is normal. Be matter-of-fact with your child. Giving non-medical complaints too much attention might increase them.

Make sure your child gets enough sleep, eats well, drinks plenty of water when it’s available and gets enough exercise.

Say, “How about sitting over there? When you feel better, let me know and we can play cards.” 

Closely watching a parent’s responses to different situations. Not wanting to disturb a parent with their own worries.

 

Give children opportunities to talk about their feelings as well as your own. Remain as calm as you can, so as not to increase your child’s worries.

Say, “Yes, my ankle is sprained but it feels better since the doctor wrapped it. I bet it was scary seeing me hurt, wasn’t it?”

“Yes I have a sniffle but remember we all get colds sometimes and when we get a cold we get better. Let’s be kind to each other, what shall we do now?” 

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