How to help kids be resilient through the pandemic

The mental health techniques developed by disaster response experts can help parents right now.

psychological first aid for kids

The COVID-19 pandemic is making us flex our 24-hour parenting muscles, and our children have been with us throughout it all. They, too, are missing their schools and day care, feeling household tensions, experiencing grief and struggling with their own anxieties.

As adults, we are able to focus on anxiety management techniques as well as the possibility of recovery in the future, both of which can help us through tough times. Children, however, may need a little more help from us to manage their stress and be resilient.

Psychological First Aid (PFA) is an approach used by response workers during and immediately after a disaster. PFA suggests guidelines for identifying people who are distressed, intervening to reduce initial stress and moving that person toward improved functioning and coping.


PFA methods can help parents provide the compassionate and supportive presence our kids need right now—and best of all, you don't need to have a formal mental health background for this approach to be useful. In fact, the RAPID-PFA model, created by Johns Hopkins University, is encouraged for use by non-clinicians when mental health practitioners may be overwhelmed or otherwise inaccessible.

A friendly word of advice and caution—PFA is not therapy. But it is a system parents can use to support our children during crises, now and in the future.

Here's how to respond to your child's mental health needs right now using psychological first aid:

The RAPID in the RAPID-PFA model stands for:

Reflective Listening





Here's what each of those components mean:

1. Reflective listening

It's easy to become distracted and miss the important things children are saying. Reflective listening is a way to really focus on what is being said.

When children act out their feelings, express their emotions and fears, or even just mention something they saw on the news, respond in a way that acknowledges what they're going through. For example:

"It sounds like you're having a tough time. How does all of this make you feel?"

"People can be mad/angry/sad in different ways. Tell me what it feels like for you."

"What scares you most about [family member or friend] being sick?"

"I can understand that you are worried. It's scary when that happens."

The best responses are nonjudgmental and non-intrusive. Reflective listening in PFA is not about telling the child how they should feel, making assumptions or minimizing their perception. Rather, it's about reflecting the child's feelings back to them. This helps build and maintain trust, which is critical for assessment, the next step in the process.

2. Assessment

It's normal to expect some behavioral changes as a result of disruption as widespread and long-lasting as this pandemic. But have your child's eating habits dramatically changed? Are they more withdrawn than usual, or perhaps extremely clingy these days (beyond needing some extra cuddles for comfort)? Are there sleeping or bedwetting issues beyond a reasonable regression?

You know your child best. Based on what you hear from your child in conversation, and what you know of their typical behaviors pre-pandemic, your own parental assessment can tell you whether the stress of the pandemic is affecting your child's daily functioning.

If the stress from the current crisis has actually interfered with a child's daily living skills, prioritization and intervention can help.

3. Prioritization

In crisis and disaster scenarios, this stage urges the RAPID-PFA user to determine which individuals are most in need of immediate care and assist them first. As parents it's common to prioritize our children anytime they are distressed—even during normal times, it's rare for moms to follow the advice to "put your own oxygen mask on first."

But parents of multiple children might observe that one of their children seems more impacted by the pandemic. Your toddler might be showing more signs of stress than your third-grader, or vice versa. Is there a child in the family who needs a little more reflective discussion, more private time and more frequent intervention to help handle their stress?

4. Intervention

Here's what parental interventions might look like for a child who appears to be very impacted by pandemic-related stress:

  • Create a visual support board to help your child focus on the future and recovery. Grab a poster board or paper and create a collage together, adding images of places they'd like to visit, names of friends they want to reconnect with, anything that helps them look toward the future with a sense of hope.
  • Normalize feelings. Reassure them that they are not alone in feeling the way that they do, and that their feelings are accepted and normal. You can say, "A lot of children feel the same way you do," or "It is common to feel what you are feeling."
  • Help them understand what to expect. Help your child understand that while things have changed, they won't always be this way. You can say, "You may feel afraid, and sometimes you might worry about getting sick. Doctors say most people who get sick will eventually get better, and people are working hard to help people stay well."
  • Stress management techniques such as deep breathing may help children learn how to create a sense of calmness in themselves. Grounding is also a useful coping strategy to guide children to connect with their environment: Ask them, What do they see, smell and hear around them?

Try making rituals of these intervention techniques—adding a new element to the visual support board every night, or doing a breathing or grounding exercise together at bedtime.

5. Disposition

This is the stage in the process where you observe your child's behavior for changes in response to the intervention. How is your child doing? Are they displaying more abilities to cope and less anxiety? Have the behaviors you observed in the assessment stage decreased?

If not, and if the child continues to display a decline in their daily functioning, reach out for additional care. Follow up with your pediatrician or a mental health provider depending on the child's needs. And stay connected to social supports that can help emotionally sustain your family.

No one knows what tomorrow, next month, or even next year will bring. The truth is the novel coronavirus pandemic is just that—novel. These are never before experienced times—unprecedented unemployment, heightened anxiety, distance between social connections and support and at times unexpected loss of loved ones. We will be changed. Our children will be changed.

As a child advocate and parent, it is comforting to know we have the power to support children, in the face of this crisis and others.

By its very nature, motherhood requires some lifestyle adjustments: Instead of staying up late with friends, you get up early for snuggles with your baby. Instead of spontaneous date nights with your honey, you take afternoon family strolls with your little love. Instead of running out of the house with just your keys and phone, you only leave with a fully loaded diaper bag.

For breastfeeding or pumping mamas, there is an additional layer of consideration around when, how and how much your baby will eat. Thankfully, when it comes to effective solutions for nursing or bottle-feeding your baby, Dr. Brown's puts the considerations of mamas and their babies first with products that help with every step of the process—from comfortably adjusting to nursing your newborn to introducing a bottle to efficiently pumping.

With countless hours spent breastfeeding, pumping and bottle-feeding, the editors at Motherly know the secret to success is having dependable supplies that can help you feed your baby in a way that matches lifestyle.

Here are 9 breastfeeding and pumping products to help you no matter what the day holds.

Customflow™ Double Electric Breast Pump

Dr. Brown's electric pump

For efficient, productive pumping sessions, a double electric breast pump will help you get the job done as quickly as possible. Quiet for nighttime pumping sessions and compact for bringing along to work, this double pump puts you in control with fully adjustable settings.


Hands-Free Pumping Bra

Dr. Brown''s hands free pumping bra

Especially in the early days, feeding your baby can feel like a pretty consuming task. A hands-free pumping bra will help you reclaim some of your precious time while pumping—and all mamas will know just how valuable more time can be!


Manual Breast Pump with SoftShape™ Silicone Shield

Dr. Brown's manual breast pump

If you live a life that sometimes takes you away from electrical outlets (that's most of us!), then you'll absolutely want a manual breast pump in your arsenal. With two pumping modes to promote efficient milk expression and a comfort-fitted shield, a manual pump is simply the most convenient pump to take along and use. Although it may not get as much glory as an electric pump, we really appreciate how quick and easy this manual pump is to use—and how liberating it is not to stress about finding a power supply.


Nipple Shields and Sterilization Case

Dr. Brown's nipple shields

There is a bit of a learning curve to breastfeeding—for both mamas and babies. Thankfully, even if there are some physical challenges (like inverted nipples or a baby's tongue tie) or nursing doesn't click right away, silicone nipple shields can be a huge help. With a convenient carry case that can be sterilized in the microwave, you don't have to worry about germs or bacteria either. 🙌


Silicone One-Piece Breast Pump

Dr. Brown's silicone pump

When you are feeding your baby on one breast, the other can still experience milk letdown—which means it's a golden opportunity to save some additional milk. With a silent, hands-free silicone pump, you can easily collect milk while nursing.


Breast to Bottle Pump & Store Feeding Set

After a lifetime of nursing from the breast, introducing a bottle can be a bit of a strange experience for babies. Dr. Brown's Options+™ and slow flow bottle nipples were designed with this in mind to make the introduction to bottles smooth and pleasant for parents and babies. As a set that seamlessly works together from pumping to storing milk to bottle feeding, you don't have to stress about having everything you need to keep your baby fed and happy either.


Washable Breast Pads

washable breast pads

Mamas' bodies are amazingly made to help breast milk flow when it's in demand—but occasionally also at other times. Especially as your supply is establishing or your breasts are fuller as the length between feeding sessions increase, it's helpful to use washable nursing pads to prevent breast milk from leaking through your bra.


Breast Milk Storage Bags

Dr. Brown's milk storage bags

The essential for mamas who do any pumping, breast milk storage bags allow you to easily and safely seal expressed milk in the refrigerator or freezer. Dr. Brown's™ Breast Milk Storage Bags take it even further with extra thick walls that block out scents from other food items and feature an ultra secure lock to prevent leaking.


Watch one mama's review of the new Dr. Brown's breastfeeding line here:

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Our Partners

Every week, we stock the Motherly Shop with innovative and fresh products from brands we feel good about. We want to be certain you don't miss anything, so to keep you in the loop, we're providing a cheat sheet.

So, what's new this week?

Meri Meri: Decor and gifts that bring the wonder of childhood to life

We could not be more excited to bring the magic of Meri Meri to the Motherly Shop. For over 30 years, their playful line of party products, decorations, children's toys and stationery have brought magic to celebrations and spaces all over the world. Staring as a kitchen table endeavor with some scissors, pens and glitter in Los Angeles in 1985, Meri Meri (founder Meredithe Stuart-Smith's childhood nickname) has evolved from a little network of mamas working from home to a team of 200 dreaming up beautiful, well-crafted products that make any day feel special.

We've stocked The Motherly Shop with everything from Halloween must-haves to instant-heirloom gifts kiddos will adore. Whether you're throwing a party or just trying to make the everyday feel a little more special, we've got you covered.

Not sure where to start? Here's what we're adding to our cart:

Keep reading Show less

The American Academy of Pediatrics says that newborns, especially, do not need a bath every day. While parents should make sure the diaper region of a baby is clean, until a baby learns how to crawl around and truly get messy, a daily bath is unnecessary.

So, why do we feel like kids should bathe every day?

Keep reading Show less
Learn + Play