Parenting During Times of Challenge and Vulnerability

Mar 8, 2020 by

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By Joanne Foster, Ed.D.

Synopsis: The world is wrestling with news about the coronavirus (COVID-19) and its far-reaching and devastating impact. Here are some practical strategies for parents to help children who are experiencing fear, dismay, vulnerability or confusion during these challenging times.

The coronavirus outbreak has changed lives and caused deaths. It has led to chaos and uncertainty, and it remains a serious threat to communities across the globe. Many parents are struggling to help their children understand what’s going on, manage their feelings, and develop coping skills. Consider the following 6 suggestions:

  • Provide a safe, comforting, and dependable environment. This might involve increasing communication with teachers, grandparents, and other family members; making a concerted effort to adhere to normal routines insofar as possible (including play, and day-to-day activities); and providing quiet times during which to chat, sit or read together, relax, or hug.
  • Be calm and attentive to children’s questions and concerns. Don’t dismiss children’s desires to learn about things or to express themselves. Rather, listen carefully and respectfully, and offer support—such as offering to find out more about what’s being done to alleviate matters. For example, scientific and technological advances; preventive measures and practical ways to stay healthy and avoid the spread of germs; the role of first responders; and the positive impact of supportive relationships. Be honest when answering questions but provide only as much information as a child can handle. And, consider setting limits on exposure to media.
  • First things first… Parents should strive to take stock of their own feelings, and to get their anxieties and emotional responses in check. (As per the airline rule, “Fix your own oxygen mask before affixing your child’s.”) This means developing coping strategies—such as strengthening support networks and becoming well- informed from public health agencies or other trusted sources—and then demonstrating learned strategies to children.
  • Pay heed to signs of undue stress. Warning signs or “red flags” might include changes in a child’s sleep patterns, eating habits, health, or activity levels; academic decline; mood swings; or substance abuse. Seek professional help if needed, from someone with expertise in children’s emotional or physical well-being.
  • Encourage children to express their ideas and feelings creatively. For example, this may be through music, drawing, or journal writing. Check out the article Creative Expression: A Source of Solace and Strength—with six different ways children can think and act so as to embrace creativity, resilience, and optimism. And, in the article Can Creativity Help Children Get Through Challenge? the emphasis is on creative energy—with four questions for kids to ponder, and three tips for parents to help children become more relaxed and confident during difficult times.
  • Talk about resilience and courage. Share inspiring stories, and help children understand that reflection, bravery, and strong family ties can be ways to confront challenges, and to create meaningful ways forward.

Even the most capable child may feel vulnerable or confused during times of adversity. Parents can provide strategies to help children feel safe and confident by offering reassurances and support, and by sharing their own experiences for overcoming challenges.


Joanne Foster’s most recent book is ABCs of Raising Smarter Kids: Hundreds of Ways to Inspire Your Child. Readers can find further information about optimal child development by checking out Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids, and Being Smart about Gifted Education (both by Dona Matthews andJoanne Foster). Dr. Foster also wrote Bust Your BUTS: Tips for Teens Who Procrastinate (recipient of the Independent Book Publishers’ Association’s 2018 Silver Benjamin Franklin Award), and its predecessor Not Now, Maybe Later: Helping Children Overcome Procrastination. To learn more about these books, and for access to a wide range of articles and links, please go to


Joanne Foster, Ed.D. is a parent, teacher, gifted education expert, educational consultant, and multiple award-winning author. Dr. Foster’s work focuses on supporting and encouraging children’s well-being—including their intelligence, creativity, productivity, and self-confidence.

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