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How to help kids (and parents) cope with the coronavirus crisis

UW Medicine shares advice for parents struggling with disappointment and frustration during pandemic.

SEATTLE — With schools closed for the rest of the year due to the coronavirus pandemic, many kids and their parents are struggling with disappointment and frustration. Parenting experts say the most important thing you can do right now is give yourself a break and when you start to hit your limit take a step back.

"When you are frustrated is a good time to walk away. Almost always when you give yourself five minutes and say, 'I'm going to walk away for five minutes and then we are going to come deal with this,' and oh man that five minutes gives us all a chance to calm down, and then we can do more problem-solving together," said Dr. Beth Ebel, pediatrician at Harborview with UW Medicine.

Ebel said while it is completely understandable for parents to be frustrated, kids will respond better to structure and support. A key point for parents to remember is that this is a scary time for kids. In fact, the director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University recently said that it's essential for parents to look and act as if they're adapting to this new reality, comparing this event to a natural disaster.

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So how do we help our kids cope? Ebel suggests you ask them to be part of the solution by helping around the house, cleaning, meal prepping or picking up after themselves. Most parents know it's a struggle to get kids to do those things in the best of times but Ebel says if they feel like they are helping then they might be more motivated. 

Also, try not to focus on bad behaviors. Instead highlight the ways they are coping by helping the family, giving them credit and validating the good things they are doing.

Ebel brought up another important point: with so much time at home we need to think of safety. She is currently attending children at Harborview, a level one trauma hospital, and said that this is a very important time to secure anything dangerous in your home like medicines or firearms. 

The Washington Mental Health Referral System is available for any family whose child might be struggling with mental health issues. Their number is (833) 303-5437. Also, don't hesitate to contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255.

RELATED: Child psychologist shares advice for coping with stress from coronavirus

Overall, kids are going to be more frustrated and emotional right now and Ebel asked parents to realize that is a normal reaction in kids and teens. Ebel says it's especially important to let them know you realize it's a tough time.

"Understanding as a parent that things are more stressful and validate that. So, you are validating that and helping them come up with solutions. We need to be understanding, we need to be able to talk about it and hear kids' concerns without dismissing them," said Ebel.

Finally, a lot of families are struggling with loss of job and income. Ebel says before you can do anything to help your kids you need to make sure your family’s needs are met. So, if you need help with food or other resources call 211 to be connected to someone who can help.