Ask a Therapist: How Do I Help My Kids Cope With the Stress of the Pandemic?

Remote learning is tough for many kids.

Verywell / CSong

In the “Ask a Therapist” series, I’ll be answering your questions about all things mental health and psychology. Whether you are struggling with a mental health condition, coping with anxiety about a life situation, or simply looking for a therapist's insight, submit a question. Look out for my answers to your questions every Thursday in the Healthy Mind newsletter.

Our Reader Asks

"My kids are remote learning this year and they hate it. They miss their friends and activities, and I’m afraid they’re missing out on having a normal childhood. I worry what sort of long-term impact that might have. How can I best support my children during COVID?"

Amy's Answer

This is definitely a stressful year for everyone—including kids. But the message you send to your kids about the situation and their ability to handle it makes a big difference in their ability to get through it. 

Remote learning is really tough on kids. Not seeing friends and not being able to participate in fun activities must be really sad, too. The message you send to your kids about the situation and their ability to handle it makes a big difference in their ability to get through it. 

If you say things like, “This is awful! You’re going to be traumatized because you missed out on your childhood!” your kids might not fare so well.

If, however, you send a message that says, “This is tough, but you’re a tough kid. Let’s work on how to best get through this together,” they’re more likely to survive relatively unscathed.

Help Your Kids Cope

Use empowering language. Instead of saying things like, “We’re stuck at home,” and “You can’t go to school,” send a positive message. Say, “We’re choosing to stay home to keep everyone safe,” and “We’re doing remote learning to help everyone stay healthier.” 

Hold regular conversations about how they’re doing. Ask questions about what they’re struggling with, what they miss about school, and any bright spots that have evolved from the pandemic.

Avoid minimizing their feelings. Don’t say things like, “I would have loved to stay home when I was a kid!” or “Do you know what we would have given to not have to walk to school?” These kinds of statements won’t make kids feel more grateful for what they have.

Validate their feelings, even if you think they’re being a bit dramatic at times. Say things like, “I’m sure it does feel frustrating to try and learn math online,” or “I know you are sad you can’t have a birthday party this year,” to recognize the feelings they’re experiencing. 

Then, work together on finding coping strategies that can help them. Maybe artwork helps them deal with sadness. And playing video games with their friends online might help them feel a little less lonely. But they won’t know until they try. 

It’s important to ensure that their coping skills stay healthy. Doing too much of anything—such as playing video games—might backfire. So you may need to set some time limits and encourage them to use other coping skills too, like getting physical activity.

Talk About Mental Health

Hold regular conversations about mental health and the importance of being proactive about staying as mentally healthy as possible during tough times. Explain how the pandemic may require you to reach for different coping strategies than you normally would. 

For example, if you can’t see your friends in-person, you may need to video chat with them. Or, if you can’t play sports at school, you might get exercise videos you can do at home to keep your body healthy.

If you suspect your child may be developing a mental health issue, seek professional help. It’s not unusual for kids to develop depression, anxiety, or other mental health problems during stressful times or during periods of transition. 

If seeing a therapist face-to-face isn't a good option at the moment, you can look for online therapy for kids. Your child might benefit from video chatting or messaging a mental health treatment provider from home.

A mental health issue isn’t a sign of weakness in your child and it doesn’t indicate your parenting skills are inadequate. It just means your child might need a little extra support. You might start by talking to the pediatrician about your options. 

Make the Best of Tough Times

It’s a great opportunity to teach your kids that even though you can’t change the situation, you can control how you respond to it.

Work on making the best of the situation and try to create some new rituals that might benefit everyone.

For example, you might launch family movie night every Friday. Or, you might decide to play board games together on Sunday afternoons. 

Talk about how they can take advantage of having fewer activities by engaging in other hobbies. Instead of going to basketball practice, your kids might discover they also love to do art work. Or, they might find that they really enjoy doing yoga.

Work on modeling how to maintain a positive attitude. Of course, you can be realistic about the fact that the situation isn’t ideal, but show your kids that you’re willing to work on managing the stress in a healthy way. They’ll learn a lot by watching how you cope with the ongoing distress of the pandemic.

By Amy Morin, LCSW, Editor-in-Chief
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist, and international bestselling author. Her books, including "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do," have been translated into more than 40 languages. Her TEDx talk,  "The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong," is one of the most viewed talks of all time.