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How to talk to your kids about coronavirus

How to talk to your kids about coronavirus

By Annie Deming, PhD

Mar 5, 2020

Updated Jul 13, 2023

5 min read

How to talk to your kids about coronavirus

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Everywhere you turn, someone is talking about COVID-19, or coronavirus. There’s no shortage of news reports, social media streams, or friends and neighbors commenting about how the grocery store was out of toilet paper to help reinforce the idea we should be worried. Our kids are listening, too, and the playground can be a top source of misinformation and anxiety during events like this.

What’s the best way to talk to our kids about coronavirus? While the answer depends in part on the child’s age and maturity, here are a few tips for parents to keep in mind.

Try to manage your own anxiety

If you’re anxious about coronavirus, your kids will pick up on it through your body language, tone of voice, and mannerisms. Before talking with your child, try to address your own anxiety with a spouse or friend so you’re able to calmly talk with your child.

Be a source of truth for your kids

My 10-year-old came home from school recently and said two of her classmates had contracted coronavirus. While I knew that wasn’t the case, it gave me the opportunity to ask her some questions and thoughtfully respond with the appropriate information. Gather information from reputable sources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization, Utah Department of Health and Intermountain Healthcare. With a rapidly changing situation like coronavirus, these organizations will have the most credible and current information to help you distill fact from fiction.

Reflect your child's emotion back to them

If your child is concerned about what she’s hearing at school or from friends about coronavirus, start by reflecting back the emotion she’s experiencing. Say something like, “It seems like you’re really nervous about this — let’s talk about it.” This simple statement acknowledges that her feelings are okay and opens the door to an honest and reassuring conversation.

Understand your child's development level

Start by asking questions to better understand what information they have and keep your answers developmentally appropriate. Just like any topic we discuss with our children, we share more information when they’re older and less when they’re younger. With a younger child, you might say something like, “Scientists are working to figure out how to keep people healthy.” With an older child or young teenager, you might share a bit more information about similarities between coronavirus and the flu, or that hospitals, doctors, and cities are finding ways to keep children and adults safe and healthy.

Be honest, but don't feel like you have to share everything

It’s not super helpful to hop online and view charts and graphs that show the spread of coronavirus or the numbers of people affected. Give your child enough information to answer their questions but not so much that they’re overwhelmed.

Be reassuring

Most kids have had the cold or flu before and recovered. Using a reassuring tone, remind them they have young, healthy bodies and aren’t at risk for coronavirus, but if they do get sick, they’ll be well taken care of by both their parents and their doctors. For example, “Doctors have a lot of information about how they can help people if they get coronavirus.”

Encourage your child to do things they can control, like washing their hands

Everyone needs to wash their hands more – adults and children alike. Try telling your child why handwashing is important and how it keeps their body healthy. Identify a family song you’ll sing each time they wash so they know how long to scrub and educate them on proper handwashing technique. Talk with them about the other common steps to stop the spread of germs: Sneezing and coughing into their sleeve, staying home when they’re sick, and not touching their eyes, nose, and mouth.

When to seek professional help

If your child seems overly anxious and it’s impacting their daily routine or ability to sleep, consider making an appointment with your child’s pediatrician. Kids will sometimes respond to a doctor’s advice when they’re struggling to be reassured by their parents. Your pediatrician can offer advice about whether your child could benefit from counseling or other treatments related to anxiety.