March 18, 2020

By Debby Machold, MA, MSW, LCSW
Citywide Director of Behavioral Health Services
Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco


During times of uncertainty, children look to the people they are closest to for direction and comfort. When parents and caregivers are feeling unsettled themselves, children can absorb their anxious and worried energy. Children may show their anxiety in unusual ways, because they are unable to articulate their questions or make sense of the feelings in their bodies. They may act out, act up, withdraw, or isolate themselves.

Here are a few tips to help parents and caregivers support their children during this time:

Remain calm - When you remain calm, you are more able to reassure your child by conveying a sense of calm. Now is a good time to practice and model self-care. If the uncertainty starts to feel overwhelming for you or your child, consider these steps: take some deep breaths together, spend 5-15 minutes of alone time, read quietly, dance together, or go outside for a walk. These activities can help contribute to both yours and your child’s wellness. For additional ideas, please see these tips on parental self-care.

Children benefit from structure and routine – Knowing what to expect and having clear boundaries help children feel comforted and safe. When children feel safe, their behaviors improve and they act more safely. While there are some inherent challenges with maintaining consistency in uncertain times, there are also activities within your control. Maintaining a consistent bedtime routine, eating meals together as a family, or playing with your child can help create a familiar structure.

Create new routines that prioritize the family - Create new routines you want to practice with your family during this time—perhaps a daily walk to explore your neighborhood or storytelling with the family. Silliness and exploration have big benefits during periods of uncertainty.

Make room for questions and discussion with your child - Your children will likely have questions and maybe some concerns they might not be able to articulate. By sharing time without technology, you will be able to tune in to their concerns, needs, and questions.

Remember to reassure your kids - Some youth may be grieving the loss of routine, loss of connections with friends, separation from elderly relatives who they have been asked not to visit during these times, and many other reasons for grief. They may secretly be worrying about you or older loved ones. Reassuring kids about what is being done to keep people safe can help comfort them.

Remind your kids to take steps to prevent illness - Children can continue to reduce their chances of getting sick or passing the coronavirus on to others, by washing their hands with soap and water, not touching their faces, and covering all sneezes and coughs with their elbow or a tissue and immediately re-washing their hands again with soap and water.

Consider helping others - If you or your child are most comforted when you are able to DO something, consider looking into safe volunteer opportunities or looking after your neighbors and their homes, even if your interaction with them is at a distance. Art projects like making cards for others who may also be feeling disconnected during this time can help children stay connected and feel empowered by taking action. The positive effect on those who receive these kind gestures is just as important for our collective well-being.

Read more great tips for parents and other BGCSF stories here! To learn more about Behavioral Health Services at Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco, please contact your Club’s Behavioral Health Specialist by calling the Club or emailing

Debby Machold is a 27-year behavioral health professional with 15 years experience at Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco.

The artwork used in this post was created by Columbia Park Clubhouse member Carmen, age 17.

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