Student Stress: COVID-19

by Carol Kocivar | March 27, 2020 | 2 Comments
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What Does Stress Look Like?

A new schedule. Restricted access to friends. Living in close quarters. With schools closed it’s tough for students to adjust. Now add the disappointment of cancelling the school dance, concerns about college applications, and sports and school clubs closing down…

Click to view CDC factsheet

It’s no wonder some kids are having a hard time. But what you may also be seeing is stress — not exactly related to the new schedule and restrictions but to how our world has changed because of the pandemic.

Students show stress in different ways at different ages. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) gives examples of what to look for and how to help.

Talking to Kids about the Pandemic

Giving your children age-appropriate accurate information about COVID-19 is important in addressing the fears and stress they are feeling. Like grownups, they may be worried that they will get the virus or that members of their family will become ill. The CDC recommends:

  • Talk. "Share facts about COVID-19 in a way that your child or teen can understand."
  • Feel. "Let them know it is ok if they feel upset. Share with them how you deal with your own stress so that they can learn how to cope from you."
  • Empathize. "Children may misinterpret what they hear and can be frightened about something they do not understand. Limit your family’s exposure to news coverage of the event, including social media."
  • Keep routines. "Try to keep up with regular routines. If schools are closed, create a schedule for learning activities and relaxing or fun activities." (See Ed100 blog Learning at Home, 2020)
  • Be a role model. "Take breaks, get plenty of sleep, exercise, and eat well. Connect with your friends and family members."

This video from the the Child Mind Institute offers practical strategies about how to successfully have that talk with your children. Among the tips: Don't be afraid to discuss the virus. Focus on what you can do to be safe.

The Child Mind Institute also provides Facebook Live video chats with expert clinicians (7:00am and 1:30pm Pacific time) and Daily tips for parenting during the crisis, via email.

Finding the right words to use with children in times of stress can be hard. Language for Parents During Times of Worry offers these suggestions: Use words such as “I Care” or “I notice” or “How Can I Help?" Crucially: after you ask a question, listen.

Give Kids Tools to Take Control

Child trauma experts at the Child Trends and the Child Trauma Training Center at the University of Massachusetts say having a sense of control is important in times of fear. Children can do this by helping themselves:

"For example, children can help by following safety guidelines (e.g., washing their hands), preparing for home confinement (e.g., helping to cook and freeze food), or volunteering in the community (e.g. ... sharing extra supplies with a neighbor)."

Parents can explain how and when to wash hands, why you should cough into your elbow and why it is important to keep a distance away from others.

The Brain Pop Coronavirus site for older kids can help with this message. It includes quizzes, extra readings and worksheets.

Another way to give older kids a sense of control is to enlist them in forming and refining safe habits. For example, safe handling of groceries involves new procedures. This popular video from the CDC suggests that you imagine what you would do if your groceries came from the store covered in glitter.

If you have more technical questions about the virus, Boston Children's Hospital offers a short video by Dr. Kristen Moffitt, an expert on infectious disease. The video, which addresses medical questions about the new coronavirus in babies and children, is suitable to share with late elementary students as well as middle and high school students.

What's Age Appropriate?

The Parent Guide from the National Association of School Psychologists and the National Association of School Nurses includes examples of age appropriate conversations. They vary from simple explanations for elementary school students to helping direct high school students to reliable sources of information.

Additional Resources

For Parents

Guidance for Parents Experiencing Stress over COVID-19 from the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents seek help for themselves, and use positive discipline techniques like time outs, redirection and reinforcement of good behaviors

The Guide to Well-Being During Coronavirus from the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley provides a variety of articles on well-being.

Many school districts provide School Wellness Centers when school is open. You might want to check with your own district to find out what services, if any, are still available through distance learning.


For those wanting to listen to basic information in both English and Spanish, check out Coronavirus (COVID-19): How to Talk to Your Child.

You can find a variety of multilingual resources on the Coronavirus here.

Spanish-language info about COVID-19 from the CDC here.

For Students

Meditation Apps for Kids from Common Sense Media

Apps to Help with Mental Health from Common Sense Media

Coping After a Disaster A Ready Wrigley activity book for children age 3-10

Be well. Be Safe.

Questions & Comments

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user avatar
jroubanis April 1, 2020 at 11:50 am
Sometimes we as parents intuitively know that it is right to share with our children facts about a scary issue, but having this confirmation boosts confidence...which is especially important when we, as parents, are feeling a little shaky. Thanks Carol for this timely article!
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