Afterschool Alliance

Mitigating Ongoing Stress of a Pandemic: A Toolkit for Caregivers

Posted: Jul 27, 2020

By Bre Gentile, Ph.D.  and Molly Peterson, Msc.

What do neighborhood scavenger hunts, family meals, talking about your feelings, and eight hours of sleep have in common? They are all ways that caregivers can help their families and young children lessen the impact of stress!

Founded by Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, the Center for Youth Wellness is part of a national effort to revolutionize pediatric medicine and transform the way society responds to children exposed to significant adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and toxic stress.

We know that afterschool programs promote mental wellness and help buffer the effects of toxic stress. But at a time when programs are offered virtually or are at reduced capacity, we know that youth are spending the majority of their time with their caregivers. Our new resource, A Caregiver’s Toolkit for Dealing with the Stress of the Coronavirus offers caregivers free, easy-to-follow, research-based strategies to buffer the impact of stress caused by our new stay-at-home reality due to the pandemic. The toolkit is available in Spanish and English.

By now, most of us have acknowledged that our world looks different. As we round out the summer months – and are still at home more often than usual – we can all use fresh ideas to stay healthy and happy! The toolkit is a great resource to share with parents and caregivers in your community. 

The toolkit outlines the seven domains of wellness that help buffer the effects of toxic stress for adults and children alike. Here’s a preview of the tips in the toolkit:

Supportive Relationships

Still have fun: Even when the world feels scary, you can enjoy time with your family and do fun activities. Work on a puzzle together. Do an arts and crafts project. Have a dance party. Play charades. Read your favorite books. Play card or board games. Tell jokes.

Stick with a daily routine: Some children are scared by big changes in their lives. When there is a lot of free time, routines can help your child feel safe. Create a family schedule, including pictures. It’s not easy to stick to a routine, and it’s okay if you don’t do it perfectly.

Sleeping Well

Keep bedtime routines: Children need routines and love quality time with their caregivers. When you do the same activities with your child at naptime and bedtime, it can help your child go to sleep. Read a book. Quietly sing a song. Calmly talk with your child about their day.

Good Nutrition

Breathe before you eat: Have your family do 1-2 minutes of low and slow breathing before you eat your meal. This will help lower stress and allow your body to digest your food.

Supporting Mental Health

Talk to your child about their feelings: During this time, your child may need extra time and attention to talk about their feelings and thoughts. Make time as a family to talk about how everyone is doing. Your child might feel sad to not see their friends, confused about what is going on, and/or scared that things won’t go back to normal.

Using Movement

Get creative at home: Create obstacle courses in your house or backyard. Jump rope. Play

games like “Duck, Duck Goose” or “Simon Says.” Make a fort. Encourage your child to make up their own game. Go to a nearby empty parking lot and let your child ride their bikes or scooter. Have a race. Play tag.

Using Mindfulness

Use the “5, 4, 3, 2, 1” technique: This is a calming activity you and your child can do together. Encourage your child to find 5 things they see (“I see the computer”), 4 things they feel (“I feel the pillow I am sitting on”), 3 sounds they hear (“I hear the sound of the TV”), 2 things they smell (“I smell pizza in the oven”), and 1 thing they taste (“I taste toothpaste”).

Spending Time with Nature

Bring nature indoors: You can grow plants indoors by planting beans or sunflower seeds in a plastic cup or yogurt carton with soil. This is a great way for your child to do a science experiment and learn responsibility by watering their own plants. Google “grow a plant with kids” for some ideas.

We hope that this resource is helpful and useful to families in your community.

This post was first published at

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Center for Youth Wellness is not a crisis center. Those experiencing urgent medical or psychiatric concerns should dial 911 or their local emergency agency for assistance. We are unable to respond to messages requesting referrals, treatment or clinical consultations from individuals who are not our patients.