As the novel coronavirus (or COVID-19) pandemic begins to disrupt life in the United States, your children may feel frightened or confused. Because this situation is constantly changing and worrisome for adults, too, it can be tough to determine how to talk with kids about COVID-19 and reassure them.
If your children are concerned, keep these tips in mind as you adjust your daily schedules and talk about what’s happening with them. It’s normal for children to be scared when life changes in big ways, but by staying calm and keeping them informed at an age-appropriate level, you can help them adjust and regain a sense of safety.
1. Don’t be afraid to talk about it.
As a parent, your first instinct might be to protect your child from hearing about the coronavirus as much as possible. But because it’s significantly disrupting daily life around the world, your child is bound to hear about it or at least know something is wrong. And not talking about it can make a child worry even more.
When you feel comfortable, talk to your child in an age-appropriate way about what the coronavirus is and how it will change your child’s schedule for the next few months. You could, for example, compare it to a more well-known disease like the flu or common cold and explain that staying close to home will keep it from spreading.
For ideas on how to discuss COVID-19 with your children, check out this episode from NPR’s But Why: A Podcast for Curious Kids. Consider listening to this episode with your kids and then discussing any additional questions they have.
2. Reassure your child about their worries.
Even though your child might not know the full situation regarding COVID-19, they may pick up bits and pieces from hearing adults talk about it or because it disrupts their usual schedule. This can make them frightened, especially if they’ve expressed a fear of germs before. Let your child know that they are safe and that, whenever worries come up, you are always here to talk about them.
Try to correct any misinformation, too. Children might believe, for example, that schools will never open up again or that everyone they know will get very sick and there is nothing they can do to stop it.
Additionally, try to stay as calm as you can while talking about the coronavirus around your child. Children often pick up how they should feel about a topic from adults. If you set a positive, reassuring tone, your child is more likely to adopt the same mindset.
3. Be honest with your child about their questions, but don’t give them more details than necessary.
It’s important to establish trust with your child when they feel worried. When questions come up about the changes to their life, try to be as honest as you can while staying calm and offering limited details. For example, if they ask whether they might get sick, you could say, “It is possible, but we’re taking lots of good steps to prevent it.”
If your child doesn’t ask about a topic, there’s no need to bring it up unless it will affect their life in some way.
4. Teach children ways they can stay healthy.
When children hear about COVID-19, they might feel frightened and worry that there’s nothing they can do to stop it. Showing them how they can prevent getting sick as much as possible can help them regain some control over the situation.
Here are a few tips from the CDC to share with your child:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to public places.
- Try not to touch your face with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact with other people and large gatherings.
- Clean and disinfect things that you touch every day.
- If the virus is spreading in your community, limit your time spent in public as much as possible.
You can view the rest of the CDC’s suggestions here.
5. Try to maintain a normal and consistent routine.
Routines help children feel safe, especially in circumstances they might find scary. It’s likely that the novel coronavirus has already disrupted your child’s routine, especially if your local schools have closed or moved online. That’s why it’s so important to establish a schedule for your child and stick to it, within reason, as much as possible.
Here’s an example from sports anchor and Instagrammer Lindsay Czarniak on creating a new schedule for your children while socially distancing:
View this post on Instagram
This was more for me than the kids but with a couple weeks of hunkering down ahead for them I followed the advice one of my sons teachers shared … “kids LOVE routine”. We didn’t stick to this exactly today but it was a hit this morning when they were craving an activity. “Recess/PE” was waaay too long but I had a meeting:) A dry erase board would be much easier but it was fun going old school like this (and playing school again for the first time in 30+ years) Any fun activity ideas? #school #home #charts #routine #coronavirus #momlife
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Talking with children about Coronavirus Disease 2019. Retrieved from cdc.gov: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/talking-with-children.html.
- Grose, J. How to Talk to Kids About Coronavirus. Retrieved from nytimes.com: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/17/parenting/coronavirus-kids-talk.html.
- Ehmke, R. Talking to Kids About the Coronavirus. Retrieved from childmind.org: https://childmind.org/article/talking-to-kids-about-the-coronavirus.
- Kris, D.F. How to Talk to Your Kids About Coronavirus. Retrieved from pbs.org: https://www.pbs.org/parents/thrive/how-to-talk-to-your-kids-about-coronavirus.
- Pendley, J.S. Coronavirus (COVID-19): How to Talk to Your Child. Retrieved from kidshealth.org: https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/coronavirus-how-talk-child.html.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How to Protect Yourself. Retrieved from cdc.gov: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/prevention.html.
- National Association of School Psychologists. Talking to Children About COVID-19 (Coronavirus): A Parent Resource. Retrieved from nasponline.org: https://www.nasponline.org/resources-and-publications/resources-and-podcasts/school-climate-safety-and-crisis/health-crisis-resources/talking-to-children-about-covid-19-(coronavirus)-a-parent-resource.