How to Talk to Kids About Coronavirus
The COVID-19 outbreak has closed schools and kept kids away from friends and relatives. Here are tips on how to explain to kids what's going on.
It's tough to wrap your head around the scope of the coronavirus pandemic. For kids, whose worldview is typically much narrower, processing the reality of the COVID-19 spread can be even more difficult. They're probably wondering why they're cooped up inside; why schools and businesses are closed; why they can't visit relatives; and when life will return to normal. It's enough to make anyone feel scared or overwhelmed – especially children who rely on parents or caregivers to provide context, information and comfort. Here are tips on how to discuss the coronavirus outbreak with them.
Don't avoid the subject. News of the pandemic is everywhere, so attempts to shield your child from public discourse may be counterproductive. “Not talking about something can actually make kids worry more,” notes the Child Mind Institute. “Look at the coronavirus as an opportunity to convey the facts and set the emotional tone.” At the same time, it adds, don't offer more details than they need, as this can be overwhelming.
Speak, and act, calmly. In a similar vein, kids are perceptive. If you're noticeably panicked, they likely will be, too. Be mindful of their presence and pay attention to your language when discussing coronavirus with other adults. When broaching the topic with your child, be straightforward and age-appropriate: Settings with lots of people, such as a classroom or family gathering, increase the possibility of the virus spreading. Staying home to minimize contact is your family's best bet to remain healthy. And while it's uncertain when schools and businesses will reopen, officials and experts are working to make it happen as soon as possible. The CDC recommends sharing that most individuals who contract the virus, especially kids, fully recover. "Reassure them that this is not our new normal," advised Dr. Valerie Arkoosh, chair of the Montgomery County, PA Board of Commissioners, at a press conference March 18. "They will be able to go back to school and see their friends whenever they want. That day will come. But for now, we have to be a little bit more careful."
Give your child a sense of control. As coronavirus spreads, children may feel helpless. Knowing that there are actions they can take to reduce the risk of themselves or loved ones catching the illness can help them feel empowered. Kidshealth.org, which is part of the Nemours health system in Delaware, urges parents to let them know that frequent, thorough hand washing, limiting contact with those outside the home, getting plenty of rest, and covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue or the inside of their elbow are simple yet effective precautions. Arkoosh also emphasizes the importance of a routine in kids' sense of purpose, and suggests establishing a new one that includes time spent outside and twice-daily cleaning around the house.
Monitor the information they consume. Whether your child is old enough to use social media or just catches snippets of the TV or radio, keep an eye on the news they consume, as well as the sources. Not only is there a massive amount of misinformation out there – the situation is constantly evolving, from the number of reported cases to new public-health safety measures to the development of vaccines and other preventative or diagnostic tools. The CDC and World Health Organization are trustworthy sources for up-to-date, accurate news on the pandemic.
Above all, act as a source of support for your child. Ensure he or she is aware that you're open to answering questions, calming their fears or sharing what you know. "Acknowledge their feelings with empathy," Arkoosh says. "If isolation is getting to them, [share that] it's the same for adults ... these are perfectly normal emotions." And be sure to lead by example: If you're visibly calm, well-informed and taking necessary precautions, chances are, they'll do the same. For more news and resources, bookmark our Coronavirus Guide for Philadelphia Area Families.