Updated: Apr 14
Being safe and feeling safe are essential for young children. The household income of many families with young children has been affected during the COVID-19 pandemic due to job loss and lost wages. Economic insecurity is linked to adverse childhood experiences that can negatively impact their social-emotional development, learning, and health. Young children living in families that are experiencing economic difficulties may feel unsafe.
They may have inconsistent access to healthy foods, safe transportation, and housing. Parents’ mounting economic stress can increase children’s risk for exposure to violence. With increased time spent at home during COVID-19, some children may have been increasingly exposed to child abuse and neglect, intimate partner violence at home, and sexual violence. It is important for parents to access social supports and services—including mental health services. Telemental health and national helplines may provide emergency options for emotional and mental health support during a crisis. Moreover, being attentive and responsive to a young child’s behaviors or questions can help support feelings of safety.
What can you do?
Recognize and address fear and stress
When adults in the household are worried or stressed, even very young children (birth-2 years) may experience emotional distress. Children ages 3-5 years might worry about getting sick with COVID-19 or about their loved ones getting sick. Excessive worry or sadness, unhealthy eating or sleeping habits, and difficulty with attention and concentration are some signs of stress in young children. These are also signs of stress in adults, as well as worsening of chronic health problems or mental health conditions, and increased use of tobacco or alcohol and other substances. Adults should seek mental health services or spiritual guidance if they are experiencing worry and stress that interferes with caretaking, household duties, or their ability to work. Adults can also take steps to provide stability and support to help children cope. Parents can support positive coping through play and talk about emotions. For instance, choosing a comfortable space on the floor, at the child’s level, to talk about things that they are seeing adults do differently can provide the opportunity for children to express their fears in a safe place. To help young children have some sense of control and safety in these circumstances, parents can encourage conversations about being part of a community, such as protecting their family and their neighbors by standing 6 feet apart and wearing a mask. Have these changes become part of a fun and new family routine.