How to help young kids cope when a parent has to isolate

A young child peeking through a door way.
If you’ve tested positive for COVID-19 and need to isolate or quarantine, you may have questions and concerns about what this means for your family, especially young children. (Image: AdobeStock).

Parents: If you’ve tested positive for COVID-19 and need to isolate or quarantine, you understandably may have questions and concerns about what this means for your family.

On top of coordinating logistics around work, child care, and safety measures, you may be worried about the psychological impact separation will have on your child. For children who are too young to be vaccinated against COVID, care may require additional precautions. While it will be several years before we fully understand the long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, child development research has shown that temporary separation, when handled with care and sensitivity, is highly unlikely to have long-term negative effects for most children.

We spoke with Christina Mondi-Rago, PhD, from Boston Children’s Brazelton Touchpoints Center about ways parents and caregivers can navigate a separation when quarantining or isolating with young children at home.

Feel your own feelings

“One of the first things I tell parents to do is to take a moment to feel their own feelings about the situation,” Mondi-Rago says. “Maybe this means calling a friend or having a good cry. Kids are perceptive to the emotions of the adults around them. If you’re able to go into the conversation about having to isolate with a sense of calm, that will help alleviate your child’s anxiety.”

Have a plan

Mondi-Rago also encourages having as much of a plan in place as possible (that is, before someone in your home gets sick) should you or your co-caretaker need to isolate. This can include designating additional childcare and figuring out meals and transportation concerns.

Keep language simple and concrete

Once you have a plan in place, Mondi-Rago suggests keeping conversations straightforward: Explain to your child where you will stay, who will be with them, and reinforce that they will be well taken care of.

As kids get older, they will have more questions about logistics: about being fed and getting to school, etc. Mondi-Rago warns against glossing over these concerns.

“Many times, the instinct is to give blanket reassurance that everything will be ok. It’s well-intentioned but can actually increase a child’s anxiety or feelings of uncertainty,” she says. Instead, Mondi-Rago encourages parents to focus on things that are within their control and remind their children about all the things being done to take care of them. She suggests simple, concrete statements such as, “I know you’re worried about getting to school, but we’re keeping in touch with your teacher, and we’re making plans to make sure you get to school on time.”


No matter what age, encouraging your child to express their feelings about being separated from you or another caretaker is important. Reassure them that all emotions are valid.

Mondi-Rago suggests providing tactile materials such as crayons or Play-Doh for very young children to help them get out their feelings.

Asking questions also helps children convey their feeling and fears.

“Asking open-ended questions is important to understanding how they’re feeling and what specific questions they may have,” says Mondi-Rago.

Maintain routine

Helpful Resources

Boston Children’s offers advice and tips for talking about COVID-19 with children and for helping families cope during these uncertain times.

Additional resources:

A Kid’s Guide to Coronavirus (book)


Feeling Hopeful with Elmo and Louie (YouTube video)

Healthy Habits with Grover (YouTube video)

Wearing a Mask (YouTube video)

“Routine, especially for young children, is really important in helping them manage stress and anxiety,” says Mondi-Rago.

“Sleep is so important for physical and mental health,” she adds. “For a lot of kids, nighttime is already a time when they feel anxious, even before you bring COVID into the mix. So I often tell families, if you can only keep up with one routine, try to make it bedtime and sleep — this includes soothing bedtime routines like baths and storytime, as well as a consistent bedtime.”

Meals are also incredibly important.

“Even if your kids aren’t eating the same meals as usual, anything you can do to stick to meal routines will help a lot to maintain a sense of normalcy,” says Mondi-Rago.

Let kids help

“Kids love to be helpers,” Mondi-Rago says. Activities such as writing a card, baking cookies, creating a video, or having a Facetime chat are small ways to let a child comfort the parent or caretaker in isolation and can help provide them with a feeling of control.

Give yourself grace

“Every family’s situation is different,” she adds. “But what parents and caregivers can do to help ease confusion and angst is to provide as much stability, routine, and security as possible given the circumstances. Tell your kids you love them and that they’re safe.”

Learn more about how the Brazelton Touchpoints Center and the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Boston Children’s Hospital help children and young adults navigate behavioral disorders, emotional concerns, and psychiatric diseases to help build healthy, collaborative relationships with their families, parents, caregivers, providers, and communities.

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