Take a Scientific-Approach to Talking to Kids About COVID-19


Attempting to navigate something as unfamiliar as the coronavirus pandemic is difficult. Doing it while raising kids who have many questions is even more difficult. As a parent, you want to protect your kids from the dangers of the world without completely keeping them in the dark. With how much news circulates on TV and social media, it can be hard for your kids to avoid the goings on of the world. Whether you have preschoolers who heard an adult conversation in passing or a teen who saw something about coronavirus on social media, there are ways to explain the COVID-19 pandemic to your child without instilling fear in them.[1] 

The first and most important part of having a conversation with your child about COVID-19 is remaining calm. Because kids easily pick up on demeanor, keeping a calm attitude will help steer the conversation in a productive direction. Your children will react to your tone of voice, so if you can speak evenly, they will be able to remain calm too. However, it is also important to talk with them about the feeling of anxiety during such a time of uncertainty. For a child, anxiety can easily feel overwhelming. Reassure your child that it is okay to feel anxious but show them how to cope with that feeling in a healthy manner . Giving them practical steps to take when they feel anxious, like taking deep breaths, can allow them to feel more empowered that they can regulate their emotions.

The next best thing you can do for your kids when having a conversation about the coronavirus is be very honest with them. Start by explaining COVID-19 stands for coronavirus disease 2019, and this disease is not something doctors knew much about when it first spread. However, assure your child that doctors and medical professionals are working so hard to save people and discover how to better care for those with the disease. In this conversation, be careful to not use language that would put blame on others or lead to stigma. Be sure that you are able to provide your kids with information that is instead reliable, truthful, and appropriate.

While having a conversation with your kids about a topic that still feels unknown to you can be uncomfortable, allowing your kids to lead the conversation is very helpful. Make it known that you are there for them to talk with when they have questions . When you allow them to start the conversation, they will reveal to you what they already know. From there, you can move forward. Ask them questions they will understand, and they will, in turn, tell you what they are learning and ask their own questions. During this time, they might express some fear or anxiousness. Assure them it is perfectly normal and okay to feel uncertain of what is to come but there are actions they can take so that they will feel more in control.

A great way to manage anxiety is by looking at what you and your child do have control of during the pandemic. The first and most basic way to keep yourself and your household healthy is by washing your hands with warm, soapy water. Hand washing needs to happen after every bathroom stop, before and after leaving public places, before eating, and after being in contact with other people. If it can be avoided, though, you should put distance between your children and others outside your home. Explain to your child that this is to help keep everyone healthy, including themselves. Another action to take is wearing a mask. For teens, many popular brands have come out with face masks they would find attractive without being obnoxious. For kids, this is a great opportunity to allow them to express themselves through colorful and fun masks. Take the time to explain to your children that wearing a mask is simply another precaution in keeping themselves and others healthy. Have them also help you clean and sanitize your home. Explain that maintaining a clean environment can further protect them from germs. Giving your kids small responsibilities will show them what they can control and hopefully will lessen any feelings of anxiety[4] .[5] 

This is a great time to give a quick lesson on germ theory, what viruses look like and how very small they can be. There’s even fun stuffed plushie toys of various bacteria and viruses that might take some of the scarier parts out of this area of science and make it something more tangible.

The coronavirus pandemic has brought many questions. Trying to answer your kids’ questions while you still have questions yourself makes this time much more stressful. However, having an open and honest conversation about what is going on will make your child feel less alone and have less anxiety about an uncertain period in time. It is important to monitor what your child sees and hears but also be truthful with them and allow them to ask questions as they come up. As everyone continues to navigate how best to handle day-to-day living in a new sort of reality, these tips on how to have a conversation with your kids about COVID-19 should make it easier to keep the discussion on-going and vulnerable.[6] [7] 

They’ve also probably noticed the list of things they can’t do right now, and probably notice that some people are wearing masks etc.

Ask them how anxiety makes them feel in their body and introduce breathing techniques.  Let them know you are also feeling anxious, but that being together and healthy makes you less anxious.

Revisit this often – new questions may arise. Same with addressing anxieties.

And offering your child choices for snacks or meals or movies or acttivities etc allows them to also feel in control of some aspect of their life.

there are great labs to show how wearing a mask protects them: like this one https://www.instagram.com/p/CDLrXj0DF42/.  And this one is great for showing about washing hands: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uvG6uBq-dV0.  and ttechnique https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GYFWbwgf-2Q

A really good resource to remember about empathy for others during this and talking about it with kids is this book: https://www.amazon.com/Whats-All-Commotion-Social-Distancing-ebook/dp/B08BFL2JYY

I think adding an example is a good idea- we call it the germs for our 3 year old. We wear masks if any people are near us that aren’t in our bubble, and we can’ go to school or restauranst until they develop a shot for it. If we get sick from the germ, we will have to go to the hospital and it would not be fun. We only talk about deatth rates, politics etc after he’s asleep and we keep any fears we have away from his ears and eyes. We also purchased a thermometter and pulse oximetter. We measure things routinely to help understand how those numbers can change if we are sick.

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