COVID-19: Helping kids cope with anxiety

Key points about helping kids cope with anxiety around COVID-19

  • It is perfectly normal and OK to feel anxiety with COVID-19 around.
  • This can result in strong feelings, reactions, and changes in behaviour. There are a number of steps you can take to help your tamariki, whānau and yourself.



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Your child's age will have an impact on how they respond to the COVID-19 situation and what they need to help them to get through it. If there is a change in your child's behaviour, it could be in response to what is happening around them, such as what parents are saying and what they hear or see in the media.

Younger children

Younger children are less likely able to understand the news and the relative risk to themselves, their friends and family/whānau. This can cause a sense of panic.

Older children

The older a child, the more ‘in tune’ they will be with their emotions and the easier it is for them to put feelings into words.

Children with an existing anxiety disorder or other mental distress

If your child or teen is already experiencing an anxiety disorder or other mental health condition, they may be even more at risk of experiencing heightened distress and worry.

Your response, and that of other adults around your child, influences how your child can cope. Be aware of your own responses and emotional needs so that you can look after your child. Here are some strategies to help children and teens.

Be calm yourself

Children and teens look to the important adults around them to see how worried they should be. Although this can be very difficult, it's important to have and show a sense of calm.

Control access to the media and limit conversations about COVID-19

Mixed messages and constantly hearing about the risks of COVID-19 can increase anxiety and worry. It is important to control how much access your child has to the media. Your child's age will also affect how they can interpret the material that they see and hear.

When there is constant talk about something, you focus on it more and then think and worry about it more. This increases your belief that you are more at risk. This belief is unlikely to match the actual risk.

Make sure that the information you access is coming from official sources such as the Ministry of Health(external link) and the Unite against Covid website(external link)

Be honest, talk and be prepared to answer questions

Be honest. Children's imagination and the fear of the unknown can be more overwhelming for children than the reality. Don't focus on the risk aspects of the situation.  

Ask your child or teen what they think and know. Start talking about the facts about COVID-19. Children ask questions to help them to make sense of the situation. Make sure you have read about the facts around COVID-19. Explain these in a simple way that is appropriate for your child's age, understanding and situation. Let them know that you are available if they have any questions or want to talk more.

Image credit: Canva

Listen and acknowledge how your child is feeling

Acknowledge your child’s feelings. Let them know that it is common to feel this way and that others are also having similar feelings. Reassure your child that they are loved, cared for and safe (in whatever realistic or truthful way they are).

Stick to routines and family systems

Stick to routines, including meal times and bedtimes as much as possible as this gives a sense of safety and security. Make sure there are family-based activities – not having plans for the day can increase worry and anxiety. Family-based activities will make children and teens feel like they are part of a unit and provide a sense of connectedness or togetherness.

Take action

Encourage your child to take action. This can create a sense of control and help if your child is experiencing a sense of helplessness. This might be drawing pictures about how:

  • your body fights infection
  • eating healthy food is important
  • washing hands is essential.

You could ask your kids to teach you how they have learned to wash their hands at school (for example, singing happy birthday) or learn a fun new way together.

Look after yourself

As an adult, it is very important that you look after yourself as well. This can be difficult because your focus is often on the more vulnerable around you. You need to be in the best position possible so you can look after your child - it is about strengthening yourself so you can be strong for your child. Talk to other adults about your feelings and what is going on. Access support systems available to you and try to keep to as many routines as possible.

If your child or teen is already under a counselling or mental health service, then it is important to talk to them about more specific ways to help your child.

You are the best support for your child or teen who is anxious and worried. Most young people's distress will improve with the love, care, and support from their family and whānau. Unfortunately, it's impossible to predict those small numbers of young people who will have significant ongoing emotional difficulties.

Some children will need to have support from professionals. If your child's responses are severe or ongoing, your child may need extra help to cope.

Help from mental health services may be more likely for children or young people:

  • with existing mental health difficulties
  • who have had previous mental health difficulties
  • whose parents are affected by mental health difficulties.

If you are concerned, contact your family doctor who will be able to give you advice about what support is recommended and available.

For the latest information, see the NZ Government's Unite against COVID-19 website(external link) and Facebook page.(external link)

COVID Healthline 0800 358 5453

For COVID-19 health advice in New Zealand, call 0800 358 5453. Make sure to only call for health-related information on COVID-19.

Call or text 1737

For support with grief, anxiety, distress or mental wellbeing, you can call or text 1737 for free, anytime, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to talk with a trained counsellor.

COVID-19 website

For the latest information and advice, see the New Zealand Government's website(external link), including their page for parents and caregivers.(external link) 

Ministry of Health website

See the Ministry of Health website's COVID-19 section,(external link) including their page COVID-19 – taking care of your mental wellbeing.(external link)


COVIBOOK(external link) is a short book (in a range of languages) to support and reassure children, under the age of 7, regarding COVID-19. This book is an invitation for families to discuss the full range of emotions arising from the current situation. This resource does not seek to be a source of scientific information, but rather a tool based on fantasy. The recommendation is to print this material so children can draw on it.


Sparklers – helping tamariki when times are tough(external link) Getting Through Together – Whāia E Tātou Te Pae Tawhiti (a joint initiative between All Right and the Mental Health Foundation) has created a range of information to support whānau at home.
These include:

Other resources from KidsHealth NZ

COVID-19 In 2022 - Helping Kids Who Are Over COVID(external link) (PDF) A New Zealand psychologist has created a booklet for kids - to help them if they are over COVID-19 - 'The RONA'. 
Resources to help explain COVID-19 to children(external link)
Supporting children when a family member dies during COVID-19(external link) 
COVID-19 – children with diabetes returning to school(external link) 

See also

Mini mindful moments Jen Sievers, 2020
2 bit-sized mindfulness activities Blissful Kids, 2019
Children and youth COVID-19 resource 2020


5 ways to support your child’s mental health through COVID-19

(Starship Children's Hospital, NZ, 2020)

What should I do if my child is already worried about COVID-19?

(Starship Children's Hospital, NZ, 2020)

10 tips for managing your mental health during COVID-19

(Starship Children's Hospital, NZ, 2020)

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Credits: Content shared between HealthInfo Canterbury, KidsHealth and Health Navigator NZ as part of a National Health Content Hub Collaborative.

Reviewed by: Healthify Editorial Team

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