2020 News Stories

How to meet the social, emotional needs of your child during COVID-19

Father and son playing with toys at home

While social distancing from friends and classmates, parents may find their child showing new emotions and ideas during the COVID-19 pandemic. USF School Psychology instructor Kahlila Lawrence, PhD, shares tips for how parents can support their child’s social and emotional needs while balancing other duties and responsibilities.

Published April 3, 2020

As families across the globe adjust to a new normal during the COVID-19 pandemic, “safer at home” orders are requiring everyone to make significant changes to daily routines and activities. Many parents are working remotely, and with schools closing to help prevent the spread of the virus, parents also must help manage the online learning activities of their children while continuing traditional household responsibilities.

Kahlila Lawrence, PhD, an instructor in USF’s School Psychology program, says the sudden life adjustments may cause many of us to feel mentally, physically and emotionally drained—and that these feelings have no age limit.

“While our children may appear to be having some fun, we must remember that they are sometimes quite resilient at masking their true emotions,” Dr. Lawrence says. “As we spend more and more time at home, our children might begin to show signs of increasing anxiety and frustration, and we must be in tune to how they are experiencing, understanding and attempting to cope with the reality that our daily routines and lives will be different well into the unforeseeable future.”

Dr. Lawrence, who joined the USF College of Education in 2019, has extensive experience collaborating with educators, families and community agencies to provide school psychological services to K-12 students. Throughout her career, Dr. Lawrence has supported the academic, behavioral and social-emotional wellness of students through assessment and intervention in preschools, elementary and middle schools and in alternative education settings.

Below, she provides some strategies for how parents can best support their children socially and emotionally while the whole family is at home full-time.

Supporting Your Child Through the Pandemic

Children today receive new information from many sources: what they’ve watched on television, overheard in adult discussions and learned from conversations with their friends and classmates.

With easy access to news media—and the opinions and assumptions that sometimes appear in televised commentaries—Dr. Lawrence says children are bound to experience misunderstandings, and that parents might not be aware of the fears their child has if they are struggling to articulate them.

Dr. Lawrence urges parents to remain mindful of some of the things their child may be thinking if they are having challenges in expressing how they feel:

  • Children may miss being with their teachers and classmates, immensely.
  • Children may believe that if they consume certain ethnic foods or encounter individuals from different cultural backgrounds that they will become ill.
  • Children may fear for their life, your life or the lives of elderly family members.
  • Children may believe if someone displays the symptoms of a cold or allergy, that they have contracted COVID-19.

Dr. Lawrence recommends parents speak with their child to find out what they know about the COVID-19 pandemic. This will help determine how well they understand the situation and what fears and concerns they have that parents can address.

“Having an open and honest discussion could lift the burden of uncertainty,” Dr. Lawrence says. “If your child has challenges with sharing their feelings verbally, perhaps the discussion could be started by encouraging them to write down their thoughts or draw a picture.”

Maintaining Routines in Uncertain Times

Another step that parents can take, Dr. Lawrence says, is to develop a daily routine for everyone in the household.

“No matter the age, routines create a sense of predictability and normalcy for us all,” she says. “It is one thing that we can control during this time and it will support your child’s mental and emotional wellbeing. Furthermore, developing routines for your child now will do them a world of good when they return to school after this pandemic has lifted.”

While developing daily routines, Dr. Lawrence recommends the following experiences throughout the day:

  • Get Regular Exercise: We can take advantage of the time we have now to do things that were extremely difficult to do prior to COVID-19, such as getting regular exercise. Most of our mornings start out slower than they once did, so activities such as morning walks, stretching and yoga can be a great way to get the blood and oxygen flowing through the body.   

  • Help Your Child Focus on Assignments: While engaging in school tasks are a given, staring into a computer screen for long periods of time can be mentally draining and create a strain on the eyes. The longer we focus on a mental task, the more we need breaks to rest. Considering the age of your child, try implementing 20 to 60-minute work periods without any distractions (such as cell phones, television, etc.). Talk to your child’s teachers and use the resources and suggestions provided.

  • Encourage Creativity: Creative time could be a great way to allow a child to decompress after engaging in school assignments. Consider activities such as arts and crafts, singing, dancing, acting out a skit, writing, reading magazines, listening to music, playing with toys, cooking, and any other developmentally appropriate activity that might spark creativity and the imagination.

  • Continue Your Child’s Regular Chores and Household Responsibilities: By having your child continue their chores and daily responsibilities each day, they will help contribute to the household environment and build character.

  • Rest and Relaxation: Your child doesn’t have to be a preschooler to benefit from a quick nap to recharge, or even just a time to sit quietly with no disruptions. Take advantage of times where rest is possible. This could be a nice addition to the schedule for everyone.

  • Get Some Fresh Air: Always make time to get out of the house to get some fresh air and sunlight. It can help to relieve stress and clear the mind. 

  • Balance Media Consumption: During this time, it is important to stay informed. However, our media outlets are addressing COVID-19 on rotation, so how frequently your children are watching the news should be monitored. It is difficult to anticipate what your child might hear on television at any given moment, and as a result, what you might be forced to explain in the moment.

Here are some additional resources recommended by faculty in the USF School Psychology program: