How to Use This Guide

  • Within this section of the guide, you will find resources for families and children
  • Highly recommended resources are denoted with a star (★)
  • Each resource notes practical recommendations or strategies to help
  • This guide is a "living document" and may be continually updated over time. The date of last update is 9/22/20.

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Families & Children Summary

An outbreak can affect the entire family, and special attention to the needs and stressors of children and their caregivers is warranted. Below is a set of expert-recommended resources with practical strategies for parents and other caregivers who are communicating with children about the coronavirus and preparing for family disruptions and challenges.

These include specific tips for caregivers on recognizing and validating young people’s underlying concerns about safety and daily life, acknowledging our own anxieties and self-care needs, discussing information in calm and age-appropriate ways, modeling coping skills and effective hygiene practices, reducing stigma and blame, staying connected with friends and family, maintaining daily routines and structures where possible and using virtual learning resources as available if homebound.

In this guide:


Talking with Children

Resource: 7 Ways to Support Kids and Teens Through the Coronavirus Pandemic ★
From: Mass General Clay Center for Healthy Young Minds


    • Three underlying concerns that young people may have during an outbreak include: Am I safe? Are my caregivers safe? How will my daily life be affected?
    • Recommendations for parents include:
      1. Controlling your own anxiety by accessing reputable information, talking with trusted others, engaging in healthy lifestyle behaviors, acknowledging worry if children ask
      2. Talking to your children about what they know about the situation
      3. Validating your child’s feelings/concerns
      4. Being available for questions and providing new information
      5. Modeling effective hygiene practices
      6. Providing reassurance by pointing to past examples of coping with challenging times
      7. Avoiding blaming of others
    • Tailoring by developmental stage (preschool/school-age/teenage) is key
    • Spanish language version available
    • Chinese language version available

Resource: How to Talk to Your Kids About Coronavirus ★
From: Mass General Clay Center for Healthy Young Minds


    • 2-minute video presentation of practical strategies
    • Dr. Gene Beresin, director of the Mass General Clay Center for Healthy Young Minds, also spoke to Boston25 News about these communication strategies for parents and children during an outbreak:

Resource: How Can Parents Talk To Children About COVID-19 And Its Impact? ★
From: Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Chan School of Public Health

Key points:

    • Dr. Archana Basu, psychologist in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the MassGeneral Hospital for Children, summarizes how to talk to children about the coronavirus based on their age and developmental needs.
    • Developmentally-specific signs and suggestions are provided for: infants/toddlers; preschoolers; school-aged children; and adolescents.
    • Recommendations for parents include:
      1. Engaging with children’s specific questions in an age-appropriate way
      2. Validating their feelings, providing realistic assurance, and promoting positive coping like reading together, being physically active and staying virtually connected with loved ones
      3. Balancing flexibility with maintaining routines
      4. Staying informed and clarifying misconceptions while limiting excessive media use
      5. Responding to the unique needs and differences of each child
      6. Helping to reduce blame and stigma
      7. Engaging in self-care and managing own responses

Resource: Talking With Children About Coronavirus Disease 2019: Messages For Parents, School Staff And Others Working With Children
From: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Key points:

    • General principles for parents, family members, school staff and other trusted adults when talking with children, include:
      1. Remaining calm/reassuring
      2. Being available to listen and talk
      3. Avoiding blame/stigma
      4. Reducing excessive media exposure
      5. Providing truthful and age-appropriate information
      6. Teaching effective hygiene practices, including handwashing
    • Simple language examples are provided for discussing: What is COVID-19? What can be done to prevent/avoid getting COVID-19? What happens if you are sick with COVID-19?

Resource: Talking to Children About COVID-19 (Coronavirus): A Parent Resource
From: National Association of School Psychologists

Key points:

    • Specific guidelines for parents of school-aged children include:
      1. Remaining calm and reassuring
      2. Being available to discuss and providing ongoing affection
      3. Avoiding blame of others
      4. Limiting excessive media exposure and clarifying misconceptions
      5. Maintaining normal routines where possible
      6. Providing accurate information
      7. Recognizing symptoms of infection
      8. Modeling effective hygiene practices such as handwashing and covering mouth when sneezing
      9. Communicating with school around rules/practices and any symptoms

Resource: COVID-19 Classroom
From: Students from Harvard Medical School

Key points:

  • Free online education modules about COVID-19 for elementary, middle school, and high school/college students. All materials were reviewed by physicians and faculty at Harvard Medical School, as well as by clinical social workers, teachers, and parents
  • Materials to support teachers and caregivers in providing children with developmentally-appropriate education about COVID-19 and the current pandemic, and ways to express their emotions and cultivate effective coping strategies and personal resilience

Family Preparedness

Resource: Coronavirus (COVID-19) Advice and Support for Parents and Carers
From: National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children

Key points:

    • Resource website including considerations for return to school, managing behavioral problems at home, navigating online safety, coping with conflict and tension, taking care of mental health and keeping children safe from abuse

Resource: COVID-19 and Mindful Parenting
From: Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Key points:

    • Recorded web forum led by Dr. Archana Basu and hosted by Dr. Karestan Koenen. Provides an overview of evidence-based skills and ideas for parents and families facing coronavirus-related stress and daily disruptions

Resource: Parent/Caregiver Guide to Helping Families Cope With the Coronavirus Disease
From: National Child Traumatic Stress Network

Key points:

    • Extensive tips for parents and families including:
      1. Preparing by holding family discussions, identifying resources, making plans for staying in contact with friends and family
      2. Practicing and modeling preventive hygiene behaviors
      3. Engaging in coping strategies like staying informed, seeking social support, expressing and validating feelings; and
      4. Keeping schedule/routine as much as possible and planning meaningful activities
    • Tailored symptoms and recommendations based on developmental stages, including: preschool; school-age; adolescent children

Resource: Parenting Through Community Crises & Disasters
From: Mass General Marjorie E. Korff PACT (Parenting at a Challenging Time) Program

Key points:

    • Downloadable resources from “Community Crises & Disasters: A Parent’s Guide to Talking with Children of all Ages” (Moore & Rauch, 2015) including topics such as: parenting through a crisis; caring for yourself and family; making choices about media use; and trauma/resilience

Resource: Resources for Families
 Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress

Resource: COVID-19 Children, Adolescents, Young Adults Resources Sheet
Network of Care Massachusetts

Key points: 

  • Compilation of resources for supporting young people during COVID-19, including those with ADHD, autism spectrum disorders and special education needs
  • Youth-oriented hotlines are also listed

Tools and Ideas for Families

Resource: Self-care for Resilience Toolkit 
From: Mass General Clay Center for Healthy Young Minds


    • Short videos on resilience skills for middle school students; high-school students; and college students (with accompanying “Self-Care Classroom Activity Toolkit” for download)
    • Short videos on modeling self-care for moms; dads; adaptations for younger children; and barriers/challenges
    • Self-care strategies for parents, including:
      1. Prioritizing time for own needs
      2. Setting priorities
      3. Planning enjoyable or restorative activities
      4. Accepting and identifying support from others
    • Self-care strategies for young people, including:
      1. Engaging in mindfulness
      2. Doing yoga and other exercises
      3. Getting enough sleep
      4. Creatively expressing self
      5. Communicating with friends, though sometimes disconnecting
      6. Practicing community service and giving to others

Resource: Pandemic 2020: Our Stuck at Home Guide to Food, Fun and Conversation ★
From: The Family Dinner Project

    • The Family Dinner Project at Mass General was founded by Dr. Anne Fishel, director of the Mass General Family and Couples Therapy Program
    • Specific ideas and suggestions for:
      1. Cooking child-friendly food with pantry staples
      2. Age-appropriate food and kitchen activities for long stay-at-home periods
      3. Meaningful conversation topics for the whole family around the dinner table
    • Virtual Dinner Party Guide: a step-by-step guide to connecting virtually over dinner during the pandemic or any time when you can’t get together in person
    • Chinese language version also available

Resource: Sesame Workshop Caring for Each Other Initiative ★
From: Sesame Street

    • Sesame Workshop Caring for Each Other initiative seeks to support families during the COVID-19 health crisis with a broad variety of free resources
    • Tips for parents and caregivers (e.g., comforting children, creating new routines, making time for play and joy) 
    • Ideas for fun games and activities that can be done at home
    • Educational multimedia (e.g., healthy habits, feelings)
    • Printable materials for offline learning and fun

Resource: Resources for Families Under Pressure
From: King’s College London, Maudsley Charity, South London & Maudsley

  • Video resources with evidence-based tips for parents developed by Drs. Edmund Sonuga-Barke and Professor Andrea Danese, including strategies for helping children manage difficult emotions, as well as how to manage challenging behavior at home

If you have comments or would like to suggest an addition to the guide, contact: Karmel Choi, PhD and Jordan W. Smoller, MD, ScD.