TIPS on Talking With Your Child About Coronavirus
News of the coronavirus COVID-19 is everywhere, from the front page of all the papers to the playground at school. Many parents are wondering how to bring up the epidemic in a way that will be reassuring and not make kids more worried than they already may be. Here is some advice from Kate Schleyer, School Social Worker, the Child Mind Institute, and NASP.
Deal with your own anxiety. “When you’re feeling most anxious or panicked, that isn’t the time to talk to your kids about what’s happening with the coronavirus,” warns Dr. Domingues. If you notice that you are feeling anxious, take some time to calm down before trying to have a conversation or answer your child’s questions. Children will react to and follow your verbal and nonverbal reactions.
Be reassuring. Children are very egocentric, so hearing about the coronavirus on the news may be enough to make them worry that they’ll catch it and become seriously ill. It’s helpful to reassure your child that kids actually seem to have milder symptoms. Remind them that you and the adults at their school are there to keep them safe and healthy. Let your children talk about their feelings and help them talk about their concerns. Children may need extra attention from you and may want to talk about their concerns, fears, and questions. It is important that they know they have someone who will listen to them; make time for them.
Don’t be afraid to discuss the coronavirus. Ask them what they have heard about coronavirus COVID-19. Most children will have already heard about the virus or seen people wearing face masks, so parents shouldn’t avoid talking about it. Not talking about something can actually make kids worry more. This is a good opportunity to share the facts and set the emotional tone. “You take on the news and you’re the person who filters the news to your kid,” explains Janine Domingues, PhD, a child psychologist at the Child Mind Institute. Your goal is to help your children feel informed and get fact-based information that is likely more reassuring than whatever they’re hearing from their friends or on the news.
NPR created a comic to help explain coronavirus to children. Here is the webpage. www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2020/02/28/809580453/just-for-kids-a-comi c-exploring-the-new-coronavirus
Monitor television viewing and social media. Limit television viewing or access to information on the Internet and through social media. Try to avoid watching or listening to information that might be upsetting when your children are present. Speak to your child about how many stories about COVID-19 on the Internet may be based on rumors and inaccurate information. Constantly watching updates on the status of COVID-19 can increase anxiety.
Be developmentally appropriate. Don’t volunteer too much information, as this may be overwhelming. Instead, try to answer your child’s questions. Do your best to answer honestly and clearly. It’s okay if you can’t answer everything; being available to your child is what matters.
Focus on what you’re doing to stay safe. An important way to reassure kids is to emphasize the safety precautions that you are taking. Jamie Howard, PhD, a child psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, notes, “Kids feel empowered when they know what to do to keep themselves safe.” We know that the coronavirus is transmitted mostly by coughing and touching surfaces. The CDC recommends thoroughly washing your hands as the primary means of staying healthy. So remind kids that they are taking care of themselves by washing their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds (or the length of two “Happy Birthday” songs) when they come in from outside, before they eat, and after blowing their nose, coughing, sneezing or using the bathroom. If kids ask about face masks, explain that the experts at the CDC say they aren’t necessary for most people. If kids see people wearing face masks, explain that those people are being extra cautious.
Stick to routine. “We don’t like uncertainty, so staying rooted in routines and predictability is going to be helpful right now,” advises Dr. Domingues. This is particularly important if your child’s school or daycare shuts down. Make sure you are taking care of the basics just like you would during a spring break or summer vacation. Structured days with regular mealtimes and bedtimes are an essential part of keeping kids happy and healthy.
Suggested Points to Emphasize When Talking to Children from NASP
● Adults at home and school are taking care of your health and safety. If you have concerns, please talk to an adult you trust.
● Not everyone will get the coronavirus (COVID-19) disease. School and health officials are being especially careful to make sure as few people as possible get sick.
● It is important that all students treat each other with respect and not jump to conclusions about who may or may not have COVID-19.
● There are things you can do to stay healthy and avoid spreading the disease:
Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
Stay home when you are sick.
Cover your cough or sneeze into your elbow or a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. o Wash hands often with soap and water (20 seconds).
If you don’t have soap, use hand sanitizer (60–95% alcohol based).
Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
Additional Resources Talking With Children: Tips for Caregivers, Parents, and Teachers During Infectious Disease Outbreaks
Coping With Stress During Infectious Disease Outbreaks