Father talking to son There's no simple set of directions or guidelines to help any of us know how to feel during a pandemic. There are no “right” or “wrong” ways to feel right now. Every feeling is normal and valid. Both children and adults are experiencing a wide range of emotions as we struggle to deal with COVID-19 and its effects on our normal way of life.

What's your child feeling?

Below are a few possible emotions your child – and you – may experience during these challenging times:

  • Grief: Many families are grieving time they can't spend with extended relatives and loved ones, the sudden end of the (in-person) school year and extracurricular activities, and the cancellation or postponement of vacations, local trips and celebrations with classmates, friends and families. Grief can be expressed as sadness, irritability and anger.
  • Anxiety and stress: Children worry that they or their family members and friends may catch COVID-19 and experience serious complications or die. They may also worry about being separated from family and friends if they or a loved one is hospitalized. Children are not used to seeing everyone in masks and find it hard to read other people's emotions when they can't see their faces. Parents and teens may be nervous about what the future holds, and how they can stay healthy as public restrictions are gradually lifted. Dealing with the uncertainty of this time is difficult, especially as information is constantly changing.
  • Frustration: Children and families are forced to adapt to changes mandated by schools and local and state governments. Family members may become frustrated and upset with each other after spending a lot of time in close quarters. Children and teens may struggle to adjust to online classwork and meetings – and the lack of socialization with peers. Family members may feel bored or that they are "missing out" on many activities that used to provide outlets for socializing, reducing stress and distraction.
  • Happiness: Many people are identifying the “silver linings” of COVID-19. They may be enjoying the chance to slow down from busy schedules and spend quality time with their families. Others may develop new hobbies or skills while stuck at home (e.g., cooking, baking) or enjoying expanding their family time taking virtual classes for exercise or hobbies. Children and teens may appreciate reduced school demands or opportunities to focus on healthy habits like getting enough sleep and eating three balanced meals a day.

Finding a path forward

ALL these feelings are normal and OK for you and your child to feel. In fact, it's expected many of us will experience all these emotions, with some days or times feeling more difficult than others. Further, some children may find that increased stress during this time has worsened their anxiety or symptoms of any preexisting conditions, while other children may feel better without normal stressors.

It's also normal for adults and children to feel more overwhelmed, worried or frustrated when they focus on things they cannot control. One way to cope with the many feelings you and your child may have during the COVID-19 pandemic is to make a list of things you can control and those you can't. The next time you feel upset, try to focus on one of the things you do have control over, and practice accepting the things you can't control.

Accepting things out of your control

  • Acceptance does not mean you like what's happening, just that you recognize you can't change what's happening.
  • Try to be present and “in the moment” without jumping to the “what ifs” about how things may be next week, next month or in the Fall.
  • Remind yourself: You can feel stressed AND still do the things that are important and meaningful to you.

Focus on what you can control

There many things you and your child can control, including:

  • Physical and social distancing. Stand 6 feet away from others, wear masks in public and wash hands frequently.
  • Making healthy choices. Take medicine as prescribed, exercise, eat healthy meals three times a day, and try to go to bed and wake up around the same time each day.
  • Finding fun ways to spend time at home with your family. Try cooking a new recipe together, plan a game or movie night, go on a scavenger hunt walk in the neighborhood, create arts and crafts together, and video chat with other family members and friends.
  • Seeking information from credible sources. Visit CHOP's website to learn about how the hospital is keeping patients, families and employees safe. The CDC website also offers accurate information about COVID-19 and how to cope during the pandemic. Contact your child's pediatrician or specialist for specific questions you may have about COVID-19 and your child’s condition.

Contributed by: Kari F. Baber, PhD, Christina E. Holbein, PhD, Sarah Mayer-Brown, PhD, Kelly A. O'Neil Rodriguez, PhD, Margo M. Szabo, PhD, Elizabeth Turner, PhD, MS, and Caroline Wilkes, PsyD, MA, are all members of the psychology team supporting patients at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

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