Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy, Parenting

Tips for Talking to Your Kids About COVID-19

Illness child on home quarantine. Boy and his teddy bear both in protective medical masks sits on windowsill and looks out window. Virus protection, coronavirus pandemic, prevention epidemic.

People all over the world are facing very real threats to their livelihood as a result of COVID-19; however, none may be more affected than our children.

For many kids, the routine and structure of daily life creates a sense of safety, which has been challenged as a result of the upheaval of the daily norm. Cancelled classes, missed playdates, and limited access to the outside world have likely engendered some level of confusion, fear, anxiety, and even despair. Attempting to address these emotions while also trying to juggle your own can seem daunting.

Below are some tips on how to have an honest and thoughtful conversation with your kids about the coronavirus. 

Be honest 

With extensive media attention on COVID-19 coupled with such drastic changes in their daily routine, it is likely that your kids have already developed their own opinions or beliefs pertaining to the pandemic.

Depending on their age and where they are getting their information, these beliefs might be causing some distress. While pretending that things are fine or making light of the situation might seem like the best option, honesty with age-appropriate boundaries is the best policy.

Take time to familiarize yourself with the facts (the CDC website is a great resource here) so that you feel better prepared to address the topic. Do not feel like you have to have all of the answers, but being open with your kids can encourage them to be open with you in return. 

Talk to them in language that is developmentally appropriate 

Depending how old your kids are, they may not understand some of the more common terminology or language being used to describe the virus. It is also not uncommon for younger children to have difficulty explaining what exactly they might be feeling because they have not yet developed the vocabulary.

Using their language and breaking information down in a way that they can understand, either through stories, characters, or child-friendly language, can make the conversation more effective and help to clear up any confusion they might have.  

family, relationships and trust concept - father talking to his sad little son at home in evening

Provide reassurance

In times of uncertainty, children often look to their parents for support and encouragement. The constant influx of information pertaining to coronavirus can feel overwhelming and will likely bring about difficult emotions for adults and children alike; therefore, it is important to keep your own anxiety in check while also providing reassurance.

Encourage them to talk openly about their thoughts and emotions, being careful not to dismiss their fears and making sure to address any concerns that may arise. It is perfectly natural for anyone, especially children, to run the gamut of emotions during this time. 

Draw from past experiences and use examples

Drawing a parallel to past experiences can help kids better understand what exactly the coronavirus is and how it can impact the body. If you are talking to a younger child, you might consider saying something like,

“Do you remember when mommy got sick and she had a runny nose and her body hurt? Well the coronavirus is another type of sickness.”

Using examples can help kids make important connections which in turn can make the virus seem less insurmountable.  

A cute little girl and her mother are washing their hands. Protection against infections and viruses.

Use this opportunity to teach habits that prevent the spread of germs 

Most parents already encourage hand washing and good hygiene to prevent the spread of germs, but these habits have become even more essential due to the rapid spread of the coronavirus.

Taking the time to discuss the importance of proper hand washing techniques and even washing your hands alongside your children can help them stay healthy and keep others healthy.

If you want to make hand washing a little more fun, you can play (or sing!) 20 seconds of a favorite song. Teaching kids to cover their mouths when coughing or sneezing is also important in preventing the spread of the virus. Having them cough into their elbow, sleeve, or a tissue are all ways to lessen the dispersion of germs.

Self care, self care, self care

While this might not feed directly into the conversation, kids are perceptive and can pick up on your emotions. There is a reason that flight attendants instruct passengers to put their own masks on before assisting someone else with theirs. It is going to be all the more difficult to have an honest and thoughtful conversation with your children if your own emotions are not in check.

Taking care of yourself is not a luxury but a necessity and making time for self care, no matter how small or brief, can have a positive impact on yourself and those around you. 

Written by Mary-Lauren O’Crowley, MA

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