9 Tips for Talking to Kids About Coronavirus

  • Mother talking to young daughter at kitchen table
    Explaining the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Pandemic
    The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the novel coronavirus outbreak a pandemic on March 11, 2020. As COVID-19 spread around the world, everyday life changed drastically. At the start, most adults were stressed, scared and uncertain; our children were as well. After a year of pandemic living, emotions have evolved into exhaustion, frustration and even anger. Here are some tips and suggestions for talking with children about coronavirus and COVID-19, including what information to share, what words to use, when to hold back, and how to calm their fears.

  • playful mother holding and kissing son in kitchen
    1. Keep calm.
    Emotions are “contagious.” That’s why your mood lifts when you spend time with upbeat people and plummets when you hang out with Debbie Downers. We humans are extremely good at sensing and responding to tone of voice and body language, not to mention the spoken word. 

    So, it’s essential to handle your own anxiety. Do what you need to do to manage your fears and frustration—journal, get outside, talk to a friend, etc. When speaking with your children, keep your voice level, calm and reassuring. If you need to vent to a friend or family member, do it out of earshot of your kids.

  • Father and son talking on couch
    2. Don’t avoid the topic.
    You might think you’re doing your child a favor by keeping her away from all coronavirus conversations, but the truth is almost all of our children are aware that something unusual is happening. If you don’t share accurate information with your children, they may believe false statements—or imagine scenarios that are even scarier than reality. 

    Our children need (and deserve) factual information. If your kids are old enough to use the internet and/or social media, teach them how to fact check the information they seek or are exposed to.

  • Mother and teenage daughter loking at tablet together on couch
    3. Use developmentally appropriate language.
    Consider your child’s age and intellectual maturity. Very young children can be told that people are staying home to avoid getting others sick. Elementary school-aged children can handle basic COVID-19 facts: virus; it spreads through sneezes and coughs; washing hands can limit the spread of disease; and there"s now a vaccine.

    With teenagers, you’ll also have to grapple with their skepticism of authority. Do your best to explain that people are limiting contact to slow the spread of disease so people who become sick can get the care they need. Research together online what other countries are doing to stem the spread, including what works and what doesn’t.

  • Mother comforting teenage daughter with serious or concerned look
    4. Listen to your kids.
    Your child’s comments and questions will tell you what they need to know. A middle schooler who complains how “stupid” it is that soccer practice is canceled might be wondering how missing a season will affect their future or might simply miss the camaraderie of playing with friends. You can often get a sense of what your child really wants (or needs) to know by reflecting their comments back to them: “Yeah, that’s tough. I bet you miss your friends, eh?” Use your child’s response to guide your next comments.

  • Mother and teenage son looking at laptop together
    5. Offer context.
    The news right now is packed with numbers and data. Your child needs you to help him understand this information in the context of his life. Depending on your child’s age and maturity level, you may want to share specific details about what’s going on in your community. If true, based on your local situation, you can let your child know that the risk to him is minimal. 

    Older children may need your help vetting reliable sources of information. If your child is spouting advice or messages that sound questionable, visit cdc.gov or who.int together.

  • Family with young children smiling together on bed
    6. Shower them with affection.
    Children feel unsettled in times of uncertainty. Very young children may regress behaviorally. A preschooler, for instance, might suddenly be afraid of sleeping alone again. Older children may become needier than usual or lash out physically or verbally. 

    You can reassure your child by offering frequent hugs and words of love. If you can, spend extra time playing together or hanging out. In fact, deliberately scheduling “together time” outside of work and school sessions is one way you can minimize disruptions when it’s time to work and get things done. Together time is even more important if your job requires going to the workplace instead of working from home.

  • Young man taking a selfie while getting vaccinated
    7. Emphasize what you can control.
    Lack of control is scary. That’s one reason why we adults are so out of sorts: We can’t predict or control what happens next. But we can take steps to protect our physical and emotional health, and we can choose our attitude and actions. Talk about the importance of the COVID-19 vaccine discovery, and get it if you are eligible. Although the vaccines are not yet authorized for children younger than 15, testing trials are underway.

    Talk about the importance of hand hygiene, and make sure your children know how to properly wash their hands. Enlist their help in wiping down doorknobs and other frequently touched surfaces. Talk about the link between sleep, nutrition and good health, and encourage all family members to take good care of their bodies.

    Show your child how to properly wear and wash a face mask, which helps control the spread of the virus. If you work in the healthcare field, assure your child you are taking the utmost precautions to protect yourself from sick patients.

  • Mother and young son talking on couch
    8. Shut down stigma.
    In some circles, the novel coronavirus has been painted as a “foreign virus,” and some people are blaming other people or other countries for the disease. Now is not the time for blame, and racism is always unacceptable. If you hear your child (or anyone else) blaming a particular ethnicity or country for the disease, call them out. Let them know that COVID-19 is an “equal opportunity” disease that is affecting people all over the world and that it’s not okay to make assumptions about anyone based on their appearance or country of origin.

  • Gay fathers with young daughter laughing at breakfast at home
    9. Check in regularly.
    This is not a one-and-done conversation. As this pandemic progresses, both you and your child will likely experience a bunch of emotions. Regular check-ins will allow you to meet your child’s ever-changing needs and provide additional, updated information.

    Some families may want to schedule check-ins; dinner time is a great time to discuss the news. Other families may opt for a more casual approach. If your child doesn’t say anything about coronavirus for a day or so, check in. Life may be turbulent now, but it"s better to talk about it (in an age-appropriate manner) than sweep it under the rug.

9 Tips for Talking to Kids About Coronavirus

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