COVID-19: Helping Kids In Times Of Stress (Part 2)
By Joanna Nicholson, MA, RCC

As we continue to engage in social distancing and self-isolation, many of our roles and responsibilities have changed due to the COVID-19 virus. Parents, foster parents, and caregivers will have to support their children’s learning from home while balancing other responsibilities and changes. Children are also experiencing change as they have not returned to school following spring break, daily routine has shifted, and social groups are fairly non existent. With no clear timeline on when things will return to ‘normal,’ parents and children will need to figure out what their ‘new normal’ looks like for now.

Following up from our previous post, we will review the remaining developmental domains of the Complex Care Intervention (CCI) model and provide ideas of how to address these domains within the context of current events.


Spend time together

With less scheduled activities and events, there are more opportunities to complete regular household chores together. Try involving your child/children in cooking, baking, yard work or cleaning. For children with avoidant attachment styles, use the ‘collect and gather’ approach where you invite them to join in with you. For children with anxious attachments, remember to give them regular and predictable one-on-one time (i.e. regular bed time routine, making a meal together, or checking in at a scheduled time each day).

Get to know each other better.

Take time to enhance your understanding of one another  – not only getting to know who your child is in a deeper way but giving them an opportunity to know more about you in this all-important relationship.  Knowing about your child, their likes, dislikes, strengths, and challenges communicates to them that they are important. Try using index cards to write questions on and taking turns allowing each member of your family to pick up a card and answer it. Or pick a question like ‘what is your favourite place?’ and ask each member of your household.


Maintain a sense of belonging.

Building a child’s sense of belonging is an important part of development. You can help your child find their unique role within you family or household. If your child is missing their friends, sports team, or groups they are a part of, you can help them find ways to stay connected. Maybe this could be facilitated through an online meeting, phone call, or community service project. Perhaps they could send a letter in the mail or create an online group in which members of their sports team posts pictures daily of how they are exercising or improving their skills. Get creative!

Build a sense of mastery.

Help your child identify a skill that they would like to learn or improve with the extra time that they have. Perhaps your child would like to write a story or comic, learn to play an instrument, bake, sew, or build a tree house. Maybe they want to be the fastest runner in their class, or learn how to win a game of checkers. Practicing a new skill daily will help your child see the relationship between regular practice and improvement.

Behavioural Regulation


Children who have experienced complex trauma may have a strong need for control, which may become heightened in times of stress. Remember that behaviour is communication and any attempt for control is a child’s way of expressing their need for safety, predictability, and stability. Are there ways that you can help your child re-grain a sense of control? Maybe they could have a say in meal planning or be in charge of scheduling the day’s activities?

5:1 Ratio.

As you spend increased time with your child/children, you may notice more negative or problematic behaviour. It can be easy to focus on negative behaviour, however it is important to balance every negative interaction with five positive interactions. Try to catch your child doing something good and comment on how you appreciate their behaviour regularly so that negative behaviours can be addressed only when needed.

Cognitive and Language Development

Create a safe learning environment.

It is common for children who have experienced complex trauma to also experience challenges in terms of cognitive and language development. Educating children from home allows parents/caregivers to create a safe and calm learning environment which is focused on the child’s individual educational needs. Also, children won’t be comparing their progress or development to that of their peers, which can take a mental and/or emotional toll on students who face learning challenges. Find ways to measure and celebrate improvements and successes.

Read aloud together.

Children are never to old to be read to! Even children who struggle with reading can enjoy being read aloud to. Find stories that interest your child or that they can identify with. It may seem simple but reading aloud to your child has many benefits such as building attachment and lowering stress, in addition to supporting cognitive and language development.

In BC parents are still waiting to learn what type of educational support will be offered to children following spring break. In the mean time open school has some great ideas for how to support children’s learning at home.

These are interesting and difficult times as parents/caregivers attempt to support your children’s development while balancing their other roles, responsibilities, and stress due to all the implications of COVID-19. Although being isolated or physically distant from the outside world has its challenges, it is also an opportunity to focus on your children, their specific needs, as well as your own well-being. Hopefully we will all be able to look back on this time in our lives and remember how we used it as an opportunity to foster our children’s development.

 Learn from Dr. Chuck Geddes as he describes the stress staircase and provides insights into how to manage our children’s stress during COVID-19.

This is part 2 of a 3-part video series.



About the author

Joanna Nicholson, MA, RCC

Joanna is a Registered Clinical Counsellor with the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors. In addition to working with the Complex Trauma Resources (CTR) team, Joanna provides clinical counselling within an interdisciplinary health care setting providing emotional and practical support to patients and their family members in the midst of significant illness. To read more about Joanna please visit here:

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