Since the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 virus a pandemic during late January, parents have had to deal with canceled programs, closed schools and reduced childcare services

To prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, state governors have closed all public schools in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota during early March. In fact, Gov. Burgum also announced last week the state's 175 public and private school districts will remain closed indefinitely in an effort to increase "social distancing" by limiting situations where the virus can spread easily among people.

Today, Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday, March 25, issued an order requiring Minnesotans to stay in place beginning at 11:59 p.m. Friday, March 27.

Parents adjust to their new work schedules while their kids try to make sense of the sudden change to their routines. Finding the time (or energy) to explain the COVID-19 pandemic can cause parents to panic or give in to their urge to binge-watch Netflix with our kids.

Here's a guide to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic and practice stress-relieving exercises for the whole family.

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Wee ones [0-18 months]

Babies can pick up their parents' worry and anxiety with their "sixth sense".

During this public health crisis, moms may be thankful that their wee one communicates through sounds, laughs...and sometimes screams. Although, your sweet little one can't understand words, here are some ways to reassure and comfort during uncertainty:

  • Stay calm around babies.
  • Maintain normal routines as much as possible, these routines are reassuring for babies.
  • Shield babies from media coverage as much as possible.

If it has been a hard day or a couple of days, soothe a stressed baby by first soothing yourself. While it may seem counterintuitive, showing your baby you're capable of self-soothing is calming. Try blowing raspberries into your baby's tiny tummy. The sensation will calm both you and your baby.

Tots [18 months to 3 years]

While still not able to completely verbalize their feelings, toddlers can feel if their loved ones are anxious.

Even during a good day, it may seem like an impossible task to keep toddlers calm during their terrible twos, but a few simple tricks may help your growing kid to stay calm while dealing with disruption to their schedule.

  • Keep your bedtime routine the same.
  • Consider using a white noise machine, if toddlers find it hard to go to sleep.
  • Listen and translate. Only you will know what their broken English really means.
  • Watch for non-verbal signs that your toddler is anxious including being scared to outside or to daycare, extra weepy or clingy.

Besides keeping a blanket or favorite stuff animal near, many toddlers will find relaxation through music. Put their favorite tune on repeat, and dance with them. (We're sorry if this may cause you to have a few earworms, but perhaps it's time to break out the earphones so each of you can listen to your favorite tracks?)

Preschoolers [3 to 5 years old]

Preschoolers could have questions about germs, doctors and even death.

Safety is a primary concern for this age group. Reassure their safety repeatedly, but don't let their fears trigger your worry. This age group can have a hard time distinguishing between fantasy and reality.

  • Reassure them people are here to keep them safe, healthy and secure.
  • Reassure about their families' health and friends Sing happy songs with them while washing hands.
  • Bedtimes are important, keep the routine of stories and tuck-in time.
  • Give lots of hugs and physical reassurance.
  • Don't insist about talking about the COVID-19 pandemic unless showing signs of distress.

Help your preschooler to practice "mindful movements" by mimicking animal movements using pictures like dogs, birds, or elephants.

Big kids [6 to 9 years old]

Big kids may have had several conversations about COVID-19 pandemic at school or with friends.

Although not quite old enough to understand the gravity of the current situation, many big kids will have had several conversations about the virus without their parents. At this age, it's important to evaluate what they know to combat any irrational fears or misinformation.

  • Explain what happened, many might not have the full picture.
  • Ask if they have any more questions and offer helpful resources.
  • Be extra patient, kids this age may not know how to process complex emotions.
  • Limit media coverage.
  • Try to keep normal routines, there still important at this age.

If they continue to be upset explain the cancellations are due to precalculations the grown-ups are taking to keep people from getting sick. If fear persists, help them to do something useful like hand washing, cleaning to writing letters to nursing homes. Another technique to try is "tapping" before starting any craft or educational project.

Tweens [10 to 12 years old]

Tweens will need help to explain their complex emotions as this may be the first time they are experiencing a global crisis.

Tweens have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic through school closures or program cancellations. While they may have the language skills to talk about their feelings, they may need help to develop their emotional regulation.

  • Acknowledge feelings of anxiety, worry or panic.
  • Stick to the facts when explaining the future.
  • Understand children may act out scary feelings through misbehavior.
  • Talk to kids about what they see on TV or read on social media to combat false information.

Mix in mindful stretching into your tweens' active routine. As they begin to learn about their bodies, progressive muscle relaxation can help them identify where they carry stress.



Teens [13 to 18 years old]

Teens are likely feeling their first deep disappointments when their favorite camp, play or sport canceled.

Dealing with the teens' disappointment and fears will be critical as you both navigate the changes to your future plans. Teens will have had conversations with their peers or teachers. They might have fear about what this will mean for their own health, school, schedule or safety. Here are some ways to help them to cope.

  • Acknowledge feelings of disappointment.
  • Talk about how events like this can surface harmful stereotypes and discrimination.
  • Seek out positive media.
  • Guide your teen to do things instead of worry about things they cannot control.
  • Use resources to spark conversations.

Mindful breathing techniques have been shown to decrease stress in teens and adults. Try out different practices together, so they see you practicing what you preach. Here's a five-minute mindful breathing exercise mom and teen can do together.

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