COVID-19: Frequently asked questions

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The COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing restrictions are impacting the well-being of caregivers and their children. Here are some of the common questions and concerns that caregivers have and some suggestions on how to cope with them.

Key points

  • The mental health and well-being of children and their caregivers are being negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Many families are struggling with similar issues. As a caregiver there are things you can do to help yourself and your children cope.
  • As a caregiver remember to take care of yourself and try taking just one day at a time.

The COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing restrictions are impacting the well-being of caregivers and their children. Different types of mental health support may be needed as we navigate the new realities imposed by COVID-19. Below are listed a collection of frequently asked COVID-19 mental health and well-being questions and answers. For some children and families, this guide along with our list of online resources may be enough. However, many families may need additional supports and are encouraged to reach out to their local mental health facilities and health-care providers before symptoms get worse.

1. My child/teen is getting more upset as time goes on and wants to know when all of this will end.

Many families are dealing with this issue. Here are some suggestions that might help.

  • Listen to your child’s concerns and validate their feelings.
  • Emphasize the things that can be controlled such as following the recommendations from health officials. This includes washing your hands and social distancing.
  • Learn and use relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and taking time out for mindful meditation each day.
  • Establish and keep a routine. This provides stability, consistency and a sense of calm in a time of uncertainty.
  • Consider setting aside a special time each day to connect with your child. Spending quality time together can help ease anxiety, build relationships and overall contribute to a more positive day.
  • Manage your own anxiety. How you manage your own responses to this situation can set the tone for how your children respond. Take care of yourself and ask for help if needed.

2. We are experiencing more family conflict because we are always together now.

Many families are struggling with this issue. It’s tough when everyone is home at once and space is limited. Here are some suggestions you can try.

  • Talk with your family about expectations and set up a family schedule that is realistic and flexible. Consider how each person can get some time and space to themselves if needed.
  • Schedule positive family experiences such as playing board games together, cooking together, going for a walk, etc.
  • Implement a type of “pause” for when tensions run high where everyone is required to take a few minutes to cool down before continuing to discuss a heated issue.
  • Take time to look after yourself. Practice calming techniques, such as deep, relaxed breathing or mindfulness.

3. My child/teen is upset because special events such as graduation and prom are cancelled.

Many young people are dealing with this issue, they are upset and their parents are upset. Here are some suggestions that might help.

  • Listen. Just being there and offering to listen, even if you can’t fix the problem, can be comforting for your child.
  • Validate your child’s disappointment. You might say, “It’s totally natural to be angry about this, it really isn’t fair!” Then express confidence in their ability to persevere, adapt and rebound.
  • Help your child to feel good about all they have accomplished while looking forward to ways they can continue to grow, learn and achieve. For example, you might say, “You’ve worked really hard. I’m so proud of your efforts. I can’t wait to see what you are going to do next.”
  • Be creative and get planning! Brainstorm with your child other ways to mark achievements and celebrations.

4. I am having trouble dealing with my own stress and that makes me poor at handling my child’s stress.

It is natural to feel extra stress at a time like this. It is important to realize the connection between your stress and your child’s stress. Just like in an airplane, it is important to ‘put on your own oxygen mask’ before trying to help someone else. Here are some ideas that might help.

  • Focus on one thing at a time. Considering all your issues at once can be very stressful.
  • Get help with tasks where you can.
  • Acknowledge your stress and your feelings (e.g., “This is hard!”).
  • Be a kind coach to yourself (e.g., “I am not alone”, “This will pass”).
  • Find a few moments to relax your body (e.g., take a few slow breaths out, hold a warm cup of tea or take a warm shower or bath).
  • Talk with a supportive friend or family member.

5. My child’s/teen’s wake/sleep cycle is completely reversed or messed up. What should I do?

Many families are struggling with this issue. Here are some suggestions that might help.

  • Actively listen to your teen’s reasons for wanting to stay up late and acknowledge the pros (e.g., it's when many of their friends are talking, they have the house to themselves, they get uninterrupted time to do what they want, it matches their natural circadian rhythms, etc.)
  • Voice your concerns in a calm tone (e.g., lack of quality sleep, reduced energy for school and overall coping, impaired immune functioning, interference with their medical regimen/treatment, etc.)
  • Engage your teen collaboratively by gradually moving their bedtime by small amounts, closer to a healthier time. This often starts by implementing an earlier wake time and limiting naps so they are sleepy enough to fall asleep at the earlier time.
  • As part of your plan, ask your teen to help create a flexible family schedule that incorporates their new sleep guidelines. Include regular eating times, bathing and hygiene routines, work and break times, as well as pleasant activities for the entire family.

6. My child/teen is using screens way too much. What should I do about it?

This is a concern that many families have. Here are some suggestions that may help.

  • Discuss truthfully with your child why their usage has gone up. Make sure to listen to their reasons without judgement and then summarize (e.g., “I know I have periods of time when I need to focus on work and it sounds like you really value having time to connect with your friends online, so we are relying on our screens more than ever.”)
  • Discuss openly your concerns as well (e.g., “I’m worried that you are on screens so much that it is interfering with your sleep and mental health, and therefore with your overall health.”)
  • Collaborate to come up with a compromise or solution (e.g., “Let’s work together to figure out a way you can have time to connect with your friends (or play your favorite games) but also pay attention to your overall health.”)
  • As part of the collaboration, ask your child/teen to help create a flexible family schedule that includes many non-screen activities (e.g., walks, board games, etc.) as well as designated screen free times (e.g., mealtimes and/or 1 hour before bed).
  • Try not to be too hard on yourself – these are unusual times.

7. My child/teen has a previous mental health diagnosis and the COVID-19 pandemic has made it worse.

The COVID-19 pandemic is making previous issues more challenging. Here are some suggestions that may help.

  • Fundamentals are important. Make sure you have the basics of good mental health such as regular routines for sleep, eating, exercise and social contact in place.
  • Identify previous strategies. Think about what helped you to manage your child’s condition before the COVID-19 restrictions? Do you think these same strategies are being or can be utilized now?
  • Acknowledge the challenge. It is OK to say it is really tough and you’re working very hard.

8. We are okay but I am finding it very hard to work at home and keep the kids on track with school.

This is a concern that many families have. Here are some suggestions that may help.

  • Go easy on yourself. You’re essentially being asked to perform two full-time jobs.
  • Don’t expect to work at your normal capacity. Be proactive with your employer and co-workers on setting realistic expectations about what you can accomplish.
  • Negotiate a realistic school plan. Remember all kids are in the same boat. It’s not reasonable to expect full educational programming at home. Prioritize a few key areas. Let your child’s teacher know the different issues for your family (e.g., access to computers, parents working, etc.)
  • Create a flexible family schedule/routine. Set up regular sleep and eating times, encourage regular bathing and hygiene routines, set up work and break times, and plan for pleasant activities as a family.
  • Expect more than usual screen time for your children but also schedule in plenty of non-screen activities (e.g., exercise, cooking with you, playing board games as a family, etc.)

9. I am feeling more overwhelmed by my child/teen's medical condition/disability during these times.

It is OK to feel more overwhelmed or stressed. This is a normal response to such an unsettled time. Here are some suggestions that may be helpful.

  • Remember to be kind to yourself.
  • Reflect on what has helped during other difficult times related to your child’s health.
  • Identify what is easily controllable and what is not controllable right now.
  • Consider simplifying your routine or your child’s routine to make it more efficient or easier to manage. Your medical team may be able to assist you with this.
  • Delegate some important tasks to other family members or supports if at all possible.
  • Pace yourself. Figure out what is most important, focus on that first and give yourself permission to lower your standards for less important things (e.g., how clean your house is).

10. I am having trouble convincing my teen to observe social distancing mandates.

You are more likely to be heard by your teen if you take a calm approach. Allow your teen to express their point of view first. Try and express interest and understanding of your teen’s view, even if you don’t agree with it. Here are some more tips that may help.

  • Listen and then clarify what your child says, (e.g., “It sounds like you really want to be close with your friends and that is totally natural.”)
  • State your own position clearly (e.g., “And in this situation with COVID-19, I am concerned that you and your friends, and all our families are at risk.”)
  • Suggest a compromise or solution (e.g., “How about we figure out a way for you to talk with your friends that is still safe?”)

11. I am feeling anxious about my financial situation and this is impacting my family/parenting/functioning.

This is a very challenging time and you are not alone. Here are some suggestions that might help.

  • Try to focus on one day at a time.
  • Do some direct problem solving on one thing at a time (e.g., consulting government financial aid web sites, contact credit card companies and/or your landlord for extensions etc.) but take emotional breaks often.
  • Find time for self-care by doing things such as taking a 10-minute walk outside, meditating, having a bath or talking to a supportive friend or family member.

12. My kids are getting bored and I don’t know how to help them.

It is normal that kids may experience boredom as they aren’t busy with the same activities as usual. Boredom is not necessarily a bad thing although it can be frustrating for everyone. Here are some ideas to deal with boredom.

  • Work with your child to create a schedule/daily routine. Make sure your child is aware of what the daily schedule includes and is part of the process to create it.
  • Given the COVID-19 restrictions may be in place for some time, it will be important to re-assess this schedule frequently to ensure your child is still interested in the daily activities.
  • Try to include multiple types of activities in a day for variation. For example, physical activity, connecting with friends online or by phone, board games, crafts, quiet time, family time, etc. These different activities should be based on your child’s interests.
  • Consider making a free time to-do list with a list of activities that your child can do independently when they find themselves without a planned or scheduled activity. For example, you might include activities such as reading a book, starting a new puzzle, organizing their room, calling a friend, cleaning their desk, playing outside, colouring, etc.
  • See if you and your child can approach common activities with a new level of curiosity, a new twist and/or a closer look (e.g., “What if we pretended we landed from Mars and didn’t know what this was? What would we notice?”)
  • Don’t be afraid to ask around. Reach out to other parents and encourage your child to reach out to other kids to get ideas on how to stay active and busy.

13. My kids are starting to worry about our health and finances and I don’t want this to add to their stress.

Children can often sense the stress of their parents and frequently worry about the family’s well-being. In addition, health and financial concerns are being highlighted in the media and in our daily conversations. Here are some ideas on how to support your child around this.

  • Reassure your child that you are doing everything you can to look after your own health and taking all necessary precautions to stay healthy.
  • Reassure your child that the current situation is temporary and that you are accessing the proper supports to financially manage at this time.
  • Always be honest and provide age-appropriate information.
  • Try to avoid watching the news with your child.
  • Take your child’s lead in these conversations. Provide small pieces of information and wait for your child to ask further questions.
  • Seek support if you need it. There are several government programs that can help assist during this time. See the article called COVID-19: Well-being and mental health resources for some suggestions.
Last updated: July 6th 2020