Editor's Note: Every Monday, Lori Gottlieb answers questions from readers about their problems, big and small. Have a question? Email her at
Dear Therapist,
How can parents best help our children manage their emotional and mental health during the social distancing required to fight the coronavirus pandemic? They’re dealing with a lot of change, stress, and isolation as a result of the pandemic, and I would appreciate any suggestions on how to best help them deal with their feelingsWe’re making sure that our kids exercise, have a schedule, spend time outside each day, and try to maintain as normal a life as possible. I’ve also suggested journaling to my middle-school-age kids, and as a family, we’ve been having open conversations.
What else can we do?
Mission Viejo, Calif.

Dear Larry,
It sounds like you’re doing a terrific job helping your kids through this very difficult time. You’re providing structure, encouraging them to move their bodies and get fresh air, creating a safe space for their feelings, and coming together as a family that communicates openly.  And now you wonder what else you can be doing.
That last part is what I want to address not just for you, but for all parents.  Like you, many parents want some kind of official guidebook on helping their kids through this upheaval. They think that whatever they’re doing to help their kids feel safe and secure might be a good start, but still, they worry, maybe they should be doing more.

Generally, though, the parents who ask this are already doing plenty: They’re juggling the laundry and the dishes, their Zoom meetings and their kids’ Zoom classes. They’re preparing meals, creating schedules, wiping down counters, sterilizing doorknobs and light switches, checking in on family members and friends. And they’re worrying—worrying so much—about whether they should limit screen time or be more lax because kids need to connect with friends; whether to let their kids be bored or program their days with projects; whether to let kids see bits of the news or turn it off when they enter the room. 

But amid all the concern about their children’s emotional health, parents tend to forget that the most important thing they can do is take care of their own emotional health.
This is true not just now, in the “new normal,” but also in the former and future normals: How parents respond emotionally to a challenge, whether it’s a family crisis or a global one, greatly influences how their kids do. Therapists call this concept “setting the emotional tone.” Here’s one way to think about it: Imagine that you’re on an airplane. Maybe you’re reading a book, watching a movie, getting some work done, or taking a nap. A typical flight.
Suddenly, there’s unexpected turbulence. You feel the plane lurch, and your anxiety spikes. Then you hear the pilot’s calm, measured voice: Hey, folks. We’re going to be experiencing some turbulence for the next 20 minutes or so. It’ll be a bit bumpy during this time, so I’m going to turn on the fasten seat belt sign and ask that you stay in your seats until we get through this rough patch. I’ve asked the flight attendants to hold off on serving food and beverages in order to keep the aisles clear, so thank you for your patience. I’ll be back with an update as soon as I have more information.
What the pilot has practiced here is a model for good parenting. She may not like the turbulence either, but she knows what she needs to do to get everyone through it: center herself and focus on navigating the aircraft through the turbulence. She can’t guarantee that the turbulence won’t get worse before it gets better—or that the plane won’t have to make an emergency landing. She’s aware, too, sometimes planes crash, albeit rarely. But if she goes into a state of terror, her passengers will too.