Tips, strategies, and books to help children cope with COVID-19 life changes

Child life specialists at M Health Fairview University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital offer strategies for children coping with hospitalization and illness during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Child Life Specialist Shannon Svobodny is a member of the Child-Family Life Services team at M Health Fairview University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital.

School or daycare routines. Connections to family and friends. Masking and safety precautions.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed almost every part of our daily lives. For the children and families receiving care at M Health Fairview University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital, these changes can be a new source of anxiety on top of the stress caused by illness, hospitalization, or medical procedures.

These new challenges to daily routines can lead to feelings of isolation, grief, anger, helplessness, sadness, or even physical changes such as difficulty sleeping or loss of appetite. Children may also have trouble expressing questions, concerns, or emotions on their own.

Shannon Svobodny is a certified child life specialist and member of our hospital’s Child-Family Life Services team. She and her fellow specialists are healthcare professionals who partner with children and families to help them cope with hospitalization, illness, their healthcare experiences, and stressful life events. They support the social, emotional, and developmental wellbeing of children and their families and recognize that current events can be especially difficult for families.

“Our families are so resilient despite the challenges they’re facing,” Svobodny said. “Having support from parents and caregivers can make a positive impact on child’s coping and overall experience.” 

To help children and families cope with the emotional impact of COVID-19, Svobodny and her team have assembled a list of tips and resources. These tips include using books to help children express their thoughts and feelings. Scroll down for their suggestions and book list recommendations.

Coping with COVID-19: Tips and resources

It’s important to remember that every child is different, and each may respond in their own way, Svobodny said. For that reason, caregivers who know their child best can play an important role in recognizing and responding to that child’s needs. When discussing COVID-19 with children under your care, remember the following:

  • Children take their cues from parents, caregivers, and adults in their lives.
    Children can sense stress and tension from adults even when it is unspoken, and they often model the behavior of adults in their lives. When communicating with children, pay attention to your own feelings and emotions and make time for your own self-care. Teach your children to identify and acknowledge their emotions and practice coping skills together. During this process, parents can lead by example by calmly sharing their own feelings and talking with children about how they deal with stress.
  • Children need open and honest communication.
    Set time aside to openly discuss the pandemic. Ask questions like: “What do you know about COVID-19? What have you heard about the virus?” Answers to these questions should be honest but appropriate for the child’s age. Create space for your child to ask additional questions and to process new information. Be mindful to not give more information than they need, which could lead to more anxiety. It’s OK to say, “I don’t know, but I will look into it” if a child asks a question that you cannot answer.

  • Children need to hear the message that they are safe and secure.
    Children may overhear worrying conversations between adults, from the media and through friends. Parents and caregivers can reassure children by discussing ways your family is promoting safety, like practicing good handwashing, exercising, eating healthy foods, and avoiding large group gatherings.

  • Children do best with routine and consistency through times of change.
    Children find security in consistent schedules and routines. Maintaining consistent bedtimes, mealtimes and playtimes can help provide a sense of safety for your child. This predictability around basic needs/rhythms sends calming messages both socially and biologically.

  • Consider reading helpful children’s books or completing workbooks with your child.
    • For preschool and school age children, Svobodny and other child life specialists use and recommend:

      • The Way I Feel
        By Janan Cain
        This selection can help children learn how to identify their feelings and connect words with corresponding emotions.

      • The Rabbit Listened
        By Cori Doerrfeld
        This selection highlights the importance of listening and following the child’s lead and offers conversation starters to help process significant medical experiences.

      • A Terrible Thing Happened
        By Margaret M. Holmes, illustrated by Cary Pillo
        A story about feeling anxious and finding support.

      • The Huge Bag of Worries
        By Virginia Ironside, illustrated by Frank Rodgers
        A soothing picture book that helps children learn how to deal with worries, big and small.

      • The Invisible String
        By Patrice Karst
        A separation resource for all relationships, this book promotes healthy relationships when people cannot be together.

      • The Goodbye Book
        By Todd Parr
        Parr’s work discusses the emotions people may experience when they have to say goodbye to someone and offers coping strategies. This can be used for both physical separation and end-of-life experiences.

      • My Many Colored Days
        By Dr. Seuss
        The book’s expressive paintings and colors can help children identify feelings.

    • For older school age children and teens, Svobodny and other child life specialists use and recommend:

      • Hello Happy! An Activity Book for Young People Who Sometimes Feel Sad or Angry
        By Steph Clarkson and Katie Abey
        This series of workbooks encourages creativity to explore negative feelings, work out worries, and cope with anxious or fearful feelings. Recommended for children and caregivers to do together.

      • Be Brave! An Activity Book for Young People Who Sometimes Feel Scared or Afraid
        By Dr. Sharie Coombes and Katie Abey
        This series of workbooks encourages creativity to explore negative feelings, work out worries, and cope with anxious or fearful feelings. Recommended for children and caregivers to do together.

      • No Worries! An Activity Book for Young People Who Sometimes Feel Anxious or Stressed
        By Lily Murray and Katie Abey
        This series of workbooks encourages creativity to explore negative feelings, work out worries, and cope with anxious or fearful feelings. Recommended for children and caregivers to do together.

      • When Something Terrible Happens: Children Can Learn to Cope with Grief
        By Marge Heegaard
        A book with suggestions for therapeutic activities help children process emotions and questions around a negative event and associated grief. Svobodny recommends this for school-age or older children only.

Resources are also available for teenagers who are navigating changes and adversity that have occurred because of COVID-19.

If you feel your child or family would benefit from additional support, M Health Fairview Behavioral Health and Mental Health providers can help. Speak with your child’s doctor for a referral.



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