By Guest Blogger Linda Nicolotti, PhD 

Linda Nicolotti, PhD., is a licensed child psychologist and Director of Pediatric Psychology and Behavioral Health at Brenner Children’s Hospital. The Q & A below is an excerpt from her recent podcast about talking with children during the coronavirus pandemic. For the latest updates on COVID-19 please visit  

For this podcast, and other podcasts on COVID-19, from Wake Forest Baptist Hospital, please visit:

  1. Children are known to thrive with an established routine. However, their usual day-to-day processes have been turned upside down due to the Coronavirus.  What can we expect from children in this scenario?
  • Some kids may be experiencing increased negative emotions such as stress, anxiety, anger, frustration, or grief. These emotions need an outlet, and parents may notice some changes such as increased behavioral issues of younger kids or more moodiness or lethargy from older kids and teenagers. Comparatively, other kids might adjust easily to all of the changes.
  1. What are some tips/advice for how we can encourage children to constructively share their feelings?
  • At this point, it’s not “should we talk to our kids about COVID-19; it’s what should we talk with them about?” Parents should keep lines of communication open with their children, and give them permission to talk about their feelings by asking questions and letting them know that it is okay to share their experience.
  • Helpful questions parents can ask include:
    • What worries do you have about Coronavirus?
    • How are you doing with all of the changes to your routine?
    • What changes have been the hardest for you?
    • Is there anything that you like about the changes to your routine?
    • What do you miss about socializing in person, going to school, or participating in activities?
  1. What is the “right” way for adults to respond to children who do share their feelings (maybe negative) about a potentially whole new way of doing life.
  • Create an opening for children to share their feelings. Listen to children and validate their feelings and experience.  Parents can acknowledge that adjusting to all of these changes can be hard.
  • There might be an element of grief that children or teens are experiencing due to the loss of connection with friends, family members, teachers and coaches; not being able to participate in extracurricular activities; and the loss of opportunities.
  • Parents can share their own challenges with the changes to routine, and how they are managing these changes. By letting kids know that parents are adjusting too, this can give kids permission to talk about these things.  Parents should be mindful though to do this in a helpful way, in order to demonstrate that it’s okay to have and talk about difficult feelings, and to model helpful ways of handling this.
  • Be sure not to overburden kids with adult problems or instill feeling of guilt.
  1. How much detail should parent go into when children start asking about actual COVID-19, the virus/sickness? 
  • Parents can take their lead from children. If a child or teen asks the question or asks for information, it is usually appropriate to answer and provide information.
  • Take into account your child’s developmental level.
    • Teens are likely to be aware of the news, ask more informed questions, and want more detailed information. The CDC has developed a video that would be good for teens, which can be found on YouTube.
    • Keep information simple for younger kids. A good book for younger children was recently put out by Dr. Christine Walsh Borst called “What Is Coronavirus.”
  1. How do children feed off of their environment (i.e. the way adults are acting around them)? 
  • Children definitely pick up on the stress level in their environment. We are not only dealing with stress in the home due to all of the changes and health concerns, but also community and even global anxiety due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Adults should be mindful of how their own conversations and behaviors might impact kids. Adults should take measures to quell their own anxiety and manage stress, which will reduce the over-all stress level at home and provide a good role model for kids in managing stress and anxiety.
  1. What are some good ways to manage stress these days concerning the COVID-19 pandemic for adults and kids?
  • Engage in self-care. Keep a routine.  Get exercise.  Spend time outdoors.  Get enough sleep, and eat a healthy diet.
  • Spend family time together by playing games, going for a walk or a bike-ride, or preparing a meal together. Get creative, and ask everyone to contribute ideas about how to spend enjoyable time together.
  • Keep things in perspective. Though all of our lives have been altered quite substantially, this is a temporary situation.
  • Focus on the things you and your loved ones CAN control, instead of what is out of your control. For example, minimizing physical contact with others, washing hands appropriately, and isolating yourself if you are sick.
  • Physically distance but don’t socially distance. Stay connected with friends and loved ones virtually.  Some people are getting creative with spending time together but staying 6 feet apart.  Explore with your child how do best stay connected with others.
  • Practice gratitude by thinking about what you are thankful for.
  • Learn relaxation and stress-management techniques such as diaphragmatic breathing, mindfulness, and meditation. There are lots of apps for this (Calm, Headspace, Breathe+).
  • Figure out ways to help others in need at this time.
  1. What is some advice on how to help kids stay focused on their tasks at hand (school, chores, etc.)? 
  • Creating a routine at home is really beneficial for kids to help them stay focused. Kids should have a set wake-up time and bedtime, just as if they were going to school.  Also keep meal times consistent.  Have scheduled time for school work, chores, exercise, relaxation and family time.  Consider posting this schedule in a prominent location at home.  Having a schedule will help kids adjust to their new normal for now.  Older kids can help to create this schedule. Of course, parents might have to check on kids routinely to make sure that they are sticking to the schedule.
  1. If a child is really struggling with this adjustment, what can parents/guardians do (i.e. professional help)?
  • Kids with prior anxiety might be especially anxious during this time of increased societal anxiety. Take your child’s anxiety seriously, and don’t minimize their feelings or symptoms.
  • If your child or teen is having difficulty functioning day-to-day, seems very tired or withdrawn, can’t control worries, is having trouble sleeping or eating, these can be indictors that your child is having significant difficulty adjusting, and might benefit from professional help.
  • Many counselors are now offering virtual services through phone or video platforms. Many insurance companies have increased coverage of telehealth visits.   Consult with your child’s primary care provider, your insurance company, and school counselor for referrals.  You can also visit websites for state licensure boards, such as the North Carolina Psychology Board, to get a list of licensed psychologists or therapists in your area.
  • Limit news and media exposure regarding COVID-19, as repeated exposure to this information can heighten anxiety.
  1. How can we fight boredom at home in the context of social distancing recommendations?
  • A schedule can be very helpful in fighting boredom.
  • Help kids or teens figure out a new project to work on…for example, build a bird house. (e.g., my kids are making a cat stand).
  • Take the opportunity to spend more time at home to complete home projects – kids can clean out their rooms by identifying items for donation such as clothes that no longer fit or toys that are not being used.
  • Help kids figure out how they can continue to participate in activities that they enjoy which have been cancelled. For example,
    • Practice basketball skills in the driveway
    • Create a theater performance or concert at home
    • Take virtual music lessons
  • Limit social media and use of devices, but allow kids to stay connected with friends and loved ones.
  1. What should parents do if their child or teen is not taking social distancing recommendations seriously? What if they are asking to get together with friends, or playing in close proximity with other children in the neighborhood?
  • Be a good example to your children in this regard.
  • Help them understand the purpose of these recommendations and why this is important at this time.
  • Help them problem-solve about how they can stay socially connected, but physically apart.
  • Very young children might have a difficult time understanding the rationale for staying away from others, however, and might be confused by this behavior.