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Helping Refugee Children and Parents Cope During the COVID-19 Crisis

Last updated: June 2, 2020

The information in this post was adapted from materials developed by the IRC’s Program Quality and Innovation unit.

This blog post offers tips on how to help families cope during the COVID-19 crisis. Helping children begin to develop coping skills in response to COVID-19 stressors can not only help them get through this volatile time, but also positively manage feelings during uncertain times in the future. For more general recommendations on supporting your clients during this difficult time, see Helping Refugee Clients Cope During the COVID-19 Crisis. 

As you work to support your clients, also be aware of your own stress and needs. Utilize resources for you own self-care and seek support from friends, family, and colleagues. To learn more, see Switchboard’s blog series Wellbeing for Service Providers During COVID-19.

Children Respond to Stress and Worry in Different Ways

Children may have changes in emotions and behaviors during isolation and as their normal schedules are interrupted, including by not going to school, spending time in crowded homes, and engaging less frequently with friends and other trusted people outside of the home. Children may be more clingy, anxious, angry, or agitated. They may regress to bedwetting, not being able to sleep through the night, or other behaviors from previous developmental stages. Encourage parents to respond in supportive ways by listening, comforting, and reassuring children they are safe.

Suggestions to Share with Parents

Parents should share accurate, age-appropriate information with their children. Younger children require simpler messages with more reassurance, while older children may be able to manage more complex information. Resources include:

  • The National Association of School Psychologists, Talking to Children about COVID-19 This is a resource page for parents available in Amharic, Bahasa, English, Chinese, French, Korean, Spanish, and Vietnamese.
  • MindHeart, COVIBOOK  This downloadable book was developed for children ages seven and younger to provide basic information about the virus and to help children recognize and discuss emotions related to the situation. It is available in Arabic, Egyptian Arabic, Danish, English, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Brazilian Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Spanish and Turkish.
  • National Public Radio, Just for Kids: A Comic about the Coronavirus – This downloadable comic is available in English and Chinese.

Encourage parents to be flexible about expectations as more anxiety may equal more emotional dysregulation. Change and stress may bring about more problematic behaviors that require patience and reassurance rather than punishment.

Limit media and television coverage of the pandemic as children may misinterpret what they hear or be frightened about things they don’t understand.

Engaging in normal routines like eating, sleeping, and bathing at regular times is helpful in reducing children’s stress and anxiety. Encourage parents to keep to regular schedules as much as possible and be a role model in healthy behavior.

Parents should spend extra time with children, including allowing for time for fun and play. Many resources can be found online to help families comfort each other and have fun together:

  • Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies, COVID-19 Distance Learning Resources – This resource list includes tools and strategies for parents, schools and service providers to provide education during times when schools are closed. Resources are available in many languages, including Arabic, English, French, Khmer, Kinyarwanda, Lingala, Nepali, Somali, Spanish, Swahili, and more.
  • Sesame Workshop:
    • Caring for Each Other (English), Sesamo (Spanish and Portuguese), and Ahlan Simsim (Arabic) – These pages provide interactive games and videos families can enjoy together.
    • Comfy-Cozy Nest – This book, available in English and Spanish, is designed for children who have experienced crises and may have overwhelming feelings associated with their experiences. The book is available in downloadable format and in hard copy, and is accompanied by a coloring page and an interactive game.
    • Let’s Play – This bilingual Spanish/English activity book is designed for young children in crisis situations. The book recognizes the important roles of play and movement in wellness for children. Available in downloadable format and in hard copy, it contains drawing, matching, moving, talking and writing activities that children can do with caregivers or other supportive adults and children in their lives. Many of the activities are particularly relevant for children whose daily routines have been interrupted, who are in isolation, or who may not be able to interact with people and places they are used to visiting.
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