Children & Youth

How to Keep Kids Occupied and Happy During the Coronavirus Outbreak


The effects of COVID-19, or coronavirus, are quickly showing up in everyday life. With school adjourned and children at home, parents need more help than ever entertaining their kids and keeping spirits high. Use these tips to spend time with family and set a good example for your children in times of emergency.


Take a trip to the virtual zoo. 

Businesses may be temporarily closing, but some places are offering alternative options for services. Check out websites for places like the Cincinnati Zoo, where you can now take a virtual safari tour, or the Pittsburgh Zoo, which is livestreaming its penguin exhibit. These alternatives can keep your kids entertained in an interactive and educational way.

Forgo the jungle gym.

Avoiding playgrounds and shared equipment is key to social distancing with young children. Opt for nature walks as a family and identify the different trees and animals you see outdoors. This will help your little one burn off some energy, get fresh air, and learn something new. 

Do a puzzle.

Puzzles are an important part of a young child’s development, helping them fine tune their hand-eye coordination, problem solving skills, memory recall, and more. Plus, puzzles seem to rarely get old – toddlers and preschoolers can do them over and over again and still get the same feeling of accomplishment when finished.


Elementary Schoolers

Read books.

With school on hiatus, keep your children engaged and their brains active. Let them pick out some books on Amazon and set up a cozy corner of the house meant just for reading. You could even have a “reading party” together, and set a timer to sit together, eat a few snacks, and enjoy some books around the same time every day.

Hunt for treasure. 

A treasure hunt is an easy, fun way to occupy your elementary schooler. Put a few silly clues or riddles on little scrolls of paper and hide them around your house near easily identifiable objects, like the fridge or the tree in the backyard. Draw up a map to guide them to each checkpoint and have them uncover a “treasure” of a new craft, candy, or books at the end.

Create theme days.

Much like school, spirit days give kids something to anticipate. Designate each day of the week with a special theme that your child can participate in actively, like wacky sock day, favorite animal day, or color day. It will help break up the days and bring some excitement to your child’s routine. 


Middle Schoolers

Work together.

Middle schoolers are at an interesting stage of development and growing up. To foster their understanding of adult responsibility, try enlisting your young teen’s help with a fun or unusual household task, like gardening or painting a room in the house. Rather than ordering them to do it themselves, accomplish the chore together and make it a fun bonding experience. It will be a positive memory they have of an otherwise mundane task.

Stay connected. 

With a vast network of friendships in person, online, and over the phone, adolescents are constantly learning and sharpening their social skills in different ways. Though you may not want your teen on their phone all day, encourage them to catch up virtually with the friends and family they may not normally get to see. Checking in with grandparents via FaceTime or chatting with old summer camp friends online can help them keep connections that may fall by the wayside during the busy school year.

Maintain a routine.

“It is important for adolescents specifically to stay occupied and entertained during times of emergency as that will serve as a good distraction,” explained Ronald Lee, MD, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Sheppard Pratt. “When given too much down time, adolescents will naturally start to worry more and become anxious when there is so much uncertainty about what is going on around them.” To prevent the unpredictability from causing anxiety, keep things like morning rituals, lunch, and physical activity relatively consistent each day for your middle schooler.


High Schoolers

Encourage healthy habits.

At this age, teenagers are becoming more independent and autonomous every day. Because they’re old enough to have a say in their daily routines and hobbies, be sure to encourage the good choices they make around you, like going for a walk or making a healthy lunch.

“It is key for adolescents to maintain their usual schedules in order to reinforce the basics such as getting a good night’s sleep, having healthy eating habits, as well as getting some sunshine and fresh air,” according to Dr. Lee. Getting the basics taken care of will help promote good mental health.

Consider relaxing screen time restrictions.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a better time to loosen up on your screen time limits. Though it may feel unnatural, letting your teens relax and enjoy a bit more time with their video games, Netflix shows, and social apps can provide them a source of comfort during such an uncertain time. You don’t have to overdo it – find a healthy medium that makes everyone happy or enter into an agreement with your teen that educational content will be consumed before using social media.

Regardless of your child’s age, make sure to discuss everything that’s going on.

It’s important for parents not only to step back and listen to what their kids know about the virus, but also to discuss the situation openly.

“The best thing that parents can do during a time such as the current pandemic is to model a calm response,” said Dr. Lee. “They should make their best efforts to talk to their child with the big picture in mind, helping their children to continue to be aware of what is happening while providing reassurance that social distancing is the best way to keep people safe at this time.”