Tips to Navigate a Pandemic with Young Children

May 3, 2020 1:32:00 PM / by Dr. Mary Manz Simon


Parents are among the heroes in the current pandemic.

They have done an amazing job of balancing work, homeschooling, and childcare, all while doing their best to maintain a smile and a calm exterior. Luckily, teachers and organizations are here to help. An abundance of online resources offer ideas to help children continue learning and reduce the anxiety and stress in families. Many of these excellent activities target school-age students.

However, the pandemic has also disrupted normal routines for preschool children, who might typically attend daycare or are used to their caregiver focusing solely on them. Young children learn through play. Parents know that, for they are their child’s first teachers. Here are six early childhood education tips to help maintain a sense of “normal” and reduce stress during these challenging times:

Reassure them in small ways.

Unless your child has heard media reports of hoarding and seen rows of empty shelves on television, they probably aren’t as worried as you are about running out of food. But the next time you open the pantry, casually comment, “We can make a lot of sandwiches with all that peanut butter.”  Or when you’re scooping ice cream, ask, “How many cones do you think we can get out of this container?” 

Without mentioning any potential problems, these comments offer subtle assurance for your child: “You are safe. I am doing many things to take care of you.”

Celebrate naptime.

Routines give a child (and us!) a sense of security. Try to serve lunch at the time your child normally eats and put them down for their regular nap. Even though your continual presence at home throughout the day might be a “new normal,” a preschooler must still pick up their toys. Although your kitchen table might function as your office now, a child still must drop dirty clothes in the hamper themselves.

When life is disrupted, rituals remind us all of what stays the same.

Help them identify their feelings.

A young child doesn’t always have the emotional literacy to accurately describe how they’re feeling. For example, your three-year-old may not know the labels or words to distinguish between sadness, anger, frustration, and boredom. You know your child: help them match words with feelings. Then apply your specific knowledge of your child to help them cope appropriately with the emotions identified.

Carefully monitor media.

In the aftermath of 9/11, we were reminded that it is unhealthy for children to repeatedly see or be exposed to potentially frightening or unsettling images. When you turn on the TV or scroll through the headlines for your daily update, try to engage privately, while your kids are occupied elsewhere.

Be honest.

Your child might not yet read books, but they’re an expert at reading your emotions. Truthfulness is the foundation for the trust you’ve built with your child. If your child asks about a television image, answer briefly. Speak to the point. “That machine is helping them breathe. Show me how you breathe all by yourself.” 

Consider your child’s maturity when giving information or answering questions. Honesty does not always require a comprehensive or detailed response.


Stay grounded in the moment. Disruptions swirl rapidly as responses to the coronavirus continually change. Your child needs you to be as totally present as you can be. You are their anchor.

Topics: Resources, COVID-19

Dr. Mary Manz Simon

Written by Dr. Mary Manz Simon

Dr. Mary Manz Simon is an early-childhood educator, consultant, media personality, and award-winning author. She has consulted for a wide variety of entertainment entities, publishers, and companies, including Walden Media, Sony Home Entertainment, and the Fred Rogers Company. Mary has also developed materials for leading entertainment companies, including work with Charlotte's Web, The Prince of Egypt, and The Berenstain Bears. Mary earned a bachelor's degree from Illinois State University, a master's degree from Erikson Institute for Early Childhood Education of Loyola University, Chicago, and a doctorate from St. Louis University. Mary and her husband, Hank, a recently retired Lutheran pastor, are the parents of three adult children and grandparents of five boys.

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