Answers to common questions about coping with COVID-19 crisis

How to calm a young child’s fears, help older kids with disappointment, and dealing with marital strife.

We are living in a challenging time of uncertainty. With so many unknowns, it’s common to feel stressed, anxious or overwhelmed. There are also many unanswered questions on coping with problems at home related to the pandemic. To help address these problems, here are some answers to common questions arising during this troubled time.

Q: I’m really worried about my 3-year-old daughter. She seems to be bouncing off the walls. What can I do to help her?

Young children are emotional sponges. They absorb what their parents and older siblings feel. With COVID-19, social distancing and the fear of the unknown, we are all stressed. Little kids absorb that tension, but don’t have words for expressing their experience. They express those feelings in action. Little kids get hyper, more demanding, have meltdowns and get tearful — but they don’t know why.

Enter the kid’s show, “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.” Daniel knows how to belly breathe, and we can teach Sarah how to take long slow breaths or practice blowing out birthday candles. It’s helpful to give her words — scared, mad and sad are all good words to suggest. Maybe she’s mad when dad is on the computer for his job rather than playing with her. Young children are confused why their parents aren’t at work. Or she’s scared when she hears mom fret about her grandma. Sarah might be sad when her best friend Mary can’t come over because she has a cough. It’s all confusing for little kids.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Staying calm yourself, keeping kids away from the news, and getting outside will help keep the tension level down. That will help your kids feel more comfortable.

And most importantly, cultivate your own calm. Your kids will absorb and act the way you behave.

Q: I’m arguing with my husband about anything and everything. I’m going nuts.

Sigh. Social distancing is keeping us at home with far more togetherness than any of us are used to. Sure, we’re getting to spend more time together — but it may not be quality time. Focus on how to have some separation — send your husband or wife out for a walk or a bike ride. We all need some alone time.

Make sure to limit alcohol consumption. Excess alcohol is a great way to loosen your tongue — but not necessarily in a good way. There is a big difference between one or two glasses of wine with dinner, and three or four glasses of wine.

Focus on the positive side of forced isolation — we get to spend more time with the people we love and who love us. Find ways of expressing that love in words and deeds. Try not to react to your partner’s irritability. Greet it with love and peace.

Q: My son’s sport season has been canceled. He seems depressed. How can I help him?

For so many kids, sports are really important. It’s a playing field where they can excel, feel competent and capable, and have fun. They enjoy the physical outlet, the pleasure of competing, and the joy of moving their body in space. It’s a big disappointment.

Learning how to cope with disappointment is a lifelong struggle that we all face. The challenge is always how to make lemonade out of lemons. Acknowledge and validate his feelings of sadness, but ask him how can he make good use of this time? Let him come up with ideas. He’s much more likely to implement one of his own ideas than one of yours. Perhaps he will decide to increase his strength and agility in interesting ways.

Paul Schoenfeld is a clinical psychologist at The Everett Clinic. His Family Talk blog can be found at

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