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How Can I Talk to My Child About the Coronavirus?

Parenting our children during the Coronavirus pandemic is an unanticipated challenge, and many of us feel unprepared.  To help with managing this difficult time, our team of child therapists have compiled a short guide with some tips and resources to make information more readily available to parents.

Please keep in mind the following:

  • YOU are the person who knows your child best​. Trust your intuition about what they need! This instinct should always be taken into consideration when making parenting decisions regarding your children.
  • Accept that others may disagree with your parenting choices​. What works for one family or child may not work as well for others – and two different approaches may work equally as well. Trust that you are the best parent for your child, even if you are struggling with decision-making along the way.
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  1. Get informed and be prepared. Before discussing Coronavirus with your children, be sure to utilize appropriate sources for accurate information, as well as being aware of your own thoughts and emotions during this time. Speak with a trusted support person before approaching your children. The more awareness you have and the more secure you are in your thoughts and feelings about Coronavirus, the easier it will be to communicate openly and honestly with your children.

    • Here are a few basics about COVID-19: – The Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, is an infection in the lungs and causes symptoms similar to the common cold, such as fever, cough, or trouble breathing.  – Coronavirus is transferred from coughs, sneezes and touching infected surfaces. The virus is thought to be spread mainly from person-to-person:
      • Between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet)
      • Through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneeze
    • Individuals with preexisting lung issues, weakened immune systems and  senior citizens are particularly vulnerable and have a greater chance of having more severe symptoms than those without.
  1. What can I share with my children or what may not be age appropriate? ALWAYS be honest! Kids know when their parents are trying to protect them by withholding the truth, which can cause anxiety. Keep your communications 100% honest while using age appropriate language and examples. Remember that it is okay to be honest about not knowing all of the answers to their questions.

    • Kids want to feel both safe and useful. Inform elementary school-aged children that people are working hard to keep schools and other public places free from the virus by cleaning and sanitizing often. Teach children the importance of hand washing and try to make it fun for smaller children by singing songs while hand washing. Empower your child by letting them know how they can help keep our communities and those vulnerable to the virus safe. Try to give them small tasks or jobs that they can do in order to feel like they are part of the solution. This could simply mean identifying their contribution when they remember to wash their hands when they come home from school, or cough into their elbow. Make sure your children know that following good hygiene practices is an act of love for the whole community!
    • Middle school children will likely be more curious and may want more information on specific measures being taken to combat the spread of the virus. Be sure to educate them on what can be done to control their own hygienic practices to best impact the safety of both themselves and others.  High school children will be able to have in-depth conversations regarding Coronavirus and providing accurate knowledge may help ease their worries. Encourage older children to take breaks from social media and news outlets which may increase virus-related fears. Be sympathetic and kind as they struggle with social distancing and the limits this places on their ability to socialize in person, engage in extracurricular activities, and spend one-on-one time with loved ones outside of the home.
    • Most importantly, encourage children and young adults of all ages to wash their hands with soap and water throughout the day and to avoid handshakes and hand touching (elbow bumps or toe-touches can be used as a fun alternative!).
  1. What can my family and I do to protect ourselves? We encourage you to follow the Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines: “Avoid close contact with people who are sick, avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and lastly, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available. If feeling sick, stay home and reach out to your provider. If it is impossible to avoid visiting fast food restaurants or using mass transit, bring sanitizing wipes to wipe down any area your family or children may touch.”

    • We encourage your entire family to eat and sleep well in order to keep up a healthy immune response. Taking care of yourself is a key component in remaining vigilant and aware during this time.
    • Take heed of recommendations to avoid large crowds of people and instead participate in social distancing in order to minimize contact with others. Be aware of where others have traveled in order to determine risk level of exposure to the virus.
    • Take advantage of your ability to use modern technology such as computers and cell phones in order to maintain contact with friends and family. Isolation can be difficult for some, and daily contact in order to maintain some semblance of normalcy will allow for the establishment of support for those who are in need.
    • If you have been exposed to the virus, contact your health care professional before going out in public. They will be up to date on the proper protocol to take should you or someone you care for be in need of medical care.
  1. What about the worries that come along with the outbreak? Many children have expressed fear and excessive worry about the Coronavirus.

    • Be aware of your own reactions, behavior, voice tone, and frequency of discussion related to the virus within earshot of your child.  If you are calm and reassured in your preparedness and action plan for managing your household during this time, chances are your children  will be secure and calm as well.  – Listen carefully to your child’s concerns and share with their teachers, if appropriate. Show your child that you are there to discuss any concerns or questions they may have.
    • If excessive worry is present, avoid watching the news or frequent reading of online media, as these may be a trigger for anxiety or panic. Be present and allow for education-based discussions to answer questions and allow for your child to have the knowledge of what can be done on their part to minimize exposure for themselves and family at this time.
    • Allow for children to Facetime or Skype with friends in order to maintain an element of socialization. This is necessary in order to allow them to see that others are also managing this need for social distancing in a positive manner and identify positive coping methods during this time.
  1. Navigating Social Media Social media is a breeding ground for spreading misinformation. Consider implementing the following guidelines and boundaries around social media:

    • Join the platforms your children are participating in so you can see what information is being distributed.
    • Limit social media time. The best way to accomplish this is for you to model it yourself! Educate your children by explaining this limitation as a form of self-care rather than a punishment.
    • Encourage and praise your child for questioning what they see and read on popular social media platforms such as  Instagram, Snapchat and Tic Tok.  Make finding misinformation a game – i.e. whoever finds five lies being spread through social media gets to pick a special activity for the family to do together.
    • Replace online activity with family activities (board games, cooking, art activity, a family walk, etc.) in order to model positive activities to stimulate child interests without the need for social media input.

There are steps that can be taken to protect yourself!

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Put distance between yourself and other people if COVID-19 is spreading in your community.
  • Stay home if you are sick, except to get medical care.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze or use the inside of your elbow. Immediately wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
  • Throw used tissues in the trash. Immediately wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus.

The following websites are great resources for additional information on how to speak with children about Coronavirus as well as how to take care of yourself during this difficult time:

Catherine McHeffey, LMSW  Alyson Ryan, LCSW, & Megan Kowalchick, LCSW

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