Parenting tips during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak

Ideas to help parents and caregivers do the most important job in the world

Family portrait of Pastor Isack Masako Nwoza, his wife Dorcas and their three children.
25 March 2020

(Adapted from article on

The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has changed family life around the world. School closures, working remote, social distancing — it's a lot to navigate for anyone, but especially for parents. Here are a few tips for parents and caregivers to manage this new (temporary) normal.  


1. One-on-one time

School shutdown is a chance to spend more time with children and adolescents. While it can be demanding, it can also be fun and is important to make children feel loved and secure. In turn, it will also help parents to focus their energy on something more positive.

Set aside time to spend with each child

It can be for just 20 minutes, or longer – it’s up to you. It can be at the same time each day so children or adolescents can look forward to it.

Ask your child what they would like to do

Choosing builds their self-confidence. If they want to do something that isn’t OK with physical distancing, then this is a chance to talk with them about this.

Ideas with your baby/toddler

  • Copy their facial expression and sounds.
  • Stack cups or blocks.
  • Sing songs, make music with pots and spoons.
  • Tell a story, read a book or share pictures.

Ideas with your young child

  • Read a book or look at pictures. 
  • Draw a picture together.
  • Create a story and add a picture each day.
  • Go for a walk – outdoors or around the home.
  • Dance to music or sing songs!
  • Do a chore together – make cleaning and cooking a game!
  • Help with school work.

Ideas with your adolescent

  • Talk about something they like: sports, music, celebrities, friends.
  • Go for a walk – outdoors or around the home.
  • Exercise or dance together to their favorite music.
  • Make a funny video together or play a game.

Switch off the TV and phone. Listen to them, look at them. Give them your full attention and most importantly have fun!


2. Keeping it positive

It‘s hard to feel positive when your kids are driving you crazy. We often end up saying “Stop doing that!”. But children are much more likely to do what we ask if we give them positive instructions and lots of praise for what they do right. 

Say the behaviour you want to see 

Use positive words when telling your child what to do; like "Please put your clothes away" (instead of "Don’t make a mess").

It’s all in the delivery

Shouting at your child will just make you and them more stressed and angrier. Get your child’s attention by using their name. Speak in a calm voice.

Praise your child when they are behaving well

Try praising your child or adolescent for something they have done well. They may not show it, but you’ll see them doing that good thing again. It will also reassure them that you notice and care.

Get real

Can your child actually do what you are asking them? It is very hard for a child to keep quiet inside for a whole day but maybe they can keep quiet for 15 minutes while you are on a call.

Remember that children and adolescents can also pick up on your stress and worries. Your wellbeing affects them, so be patient with yourself too - this will help to be more positive with them in return.

Help your adolescent stay connected

Adolescents especially, need to be able to communicate with their friends. Help them connect through social media and other safe distancing ways. This is something you can do together, too!


3. Get structured 

COVID-19 has changed routines and habits from our daily work, home and school. This is hard for children, adolescents and for you. Making new routines can help.

Create a flexible but consistent daily routine

  • Make a schedule together with your children so there is time for structured activities as well as free time. This can help children feel more secure and better behaved.
  • Children or adolescents can help plan the routine for the day – like making a school timetable. Children will follow this better if they help to make it.
  • Include physical movement in each day - this helps with stress and kids with lots of energy at home. It can be anything from dance or stretching, to running around.

Teach your child about keeping safe distances

  • If it is OK in your country, get children outside.
  • You can also write letters and draw pictures to share with people. Put them up outside your home for others to see!
  • You can reassure your child by talking about how you are keeping safe.
  • Listen to their suggestions and take them seriously.

Make handwashing and hygiene fun

  • Make a 20-second song for washing hands. Add actions!
  • Give children points and praise for regular handwashing.
  • Make a game to see how few times we can touch our faces with a reward for the least number of touches (you can count for each other).

You are a model for your child’s behaviour

If you practice keeping safe distances and hygiene yourself, and treat others with compassion, especially those who are sick or vulnerable – your children  will learn from you. At the end of each day, take a minute to think about the day. Tell your child about one positive or fun thing they did. Praise yourself for what you did well today. You are a star! 


4. Bad behaviour

All children misbehave. It is normal when children are tired, hungry, afraid, or learning independence. 


  • Catch bad behaviour early and redirect your kids’ attention from a bad to a good behaviour.
  • Stop it before it starts! When they start to get restless, you can distract with something interesting or fun: “Come, let’s play a game instead!”

Take a break

Feel like screaming? Give yourself a 10-second pause. Breathe in and out slowly five times. Then try to respond in a calmer way. Millions of parents say this helps - a lot!

Use consequences

Consequences help teach our children responsibility for what they do. They also allow discipline that is controlled. This is more effective than hitting or shouting.

  • Give your child a choice to follow your instruction before giving them the consequence.
  • Try to stay calm when giving the consequence.
  • Make sure you can follow through with the consequence. For example, taking away an adolescent's phone for a week is hard to enforce.Taking it away for one hour is more realistic. 
  • Once the consequence is over, give your child a chance to do something good, and praise them for it.

One-on-one time, praise for being good, and consistent routines will reduce bad behaviour. Give your children simple jobs with responsibilities. Just make sure it is something they are able to do. And praise them when they do it!


5. Keep calm and manage stress

This is a stressful time. Take care of yourself, so you can support your children. 

You are not alone

Millions of parents have the same fears as us. Find someone who you can talk to about how you are feeling. Listen to them. Avoid social media that makes you feel panicked.

Take a break

We all need a break sometimes. When your children are asleep, do something fun or relaxing for yourself. Make a list of healthy activities that YOU like to do. You deserve it!

Listen to your kids

Be open and listen to your children. Your children will look to you for support and reassurance. Listen to your children when they share how they are feeling. Accept how they feel and give them comfort.


6. Talking about COVID-19

As a parent it is your responsibility to make sure your children get correct and approved information on how to prevent COVID-19. Parents should be proactive in following updates from the Government such as the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children (MoHCDGEC), WHO and UNICEF websites.

Be willing to talk

They will already have heard something. Silence and secrets do not protect our children. Honesty and openness do. Think about how much they will understand. You know them best.

Be open and listen

Allow your child to talk freely. Ask them open questions and find out how much they already know.

Be honest

Always answer their questions truthfully. Think about how old your child is and how much they can understand.

Be supportive

Your child may be scared or confused. Give them space to share how they are feeling and let them know you are there for them.

It is OK not to know the answers

It is fine to say “We don’t know, but we are working on it; or we don’t know, but we think.” Use this as an opportunity to learn something new with your child!

Heroes not bullies

Explain that COVID-19 has nothing to do with the way someone looks, where they are from, or what language they speak. Tell your child that we can be compassionate to people who are sick and those who are caring for them. Look for stories of people who are working to stop the outbreak and are caring for sick people.There are a lot of stories going around. Some may not be true. Use trustworthy sites like UNICEF and the World Health Organization

End on a good note

Check to see if your child is okay. Remind them that you care and that they can talk to you anytime. Then do something fun together!

If you practice keeping safe distances and hygiene yourself, and treat others with compassion, especially those who are sick or vulnerable – your children will learn from you.

Find out more about how families in Tanzania can cope by watching Masanja Mkandamizaji and his family's video below!

UNICEF Tanzania