Discussing COVID-19 with Children
Posted on September 28, 2020 by CHS
For many of us, the state of emergency due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has dramatically changed the course of daily life. Social interactions, running errands, and the ways we frequent public establishments are only some of the aspects of our lives that have been affected as we adapt to health precautions in an effort to combat the spread of coronavirus. Though adults and children have varied experience in adjusting to new conditions and environments, the changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic have not been experienced since the 1918 flu pandemic. During this time, it is important to support one another as we all navigate this “new normal,” and it is especially important that we support children through these changes.
Let Your Child Share What They Know
Depending on the age of the child, the amount of information you provide on the COVID-19 pandemic will vary. It is important to find a balance between the amount of information you need to share in order to answer their questions without creating alarm. A great place to start is to ask your child what they know about the coronavirus and what, if any, concerns they have about the topic. By allowing your child to openly express their knowledge and concerns about the coronavirus, you will be able to clear up any myths they have heard and gauge their awareness of the situation. It can also be therapeutic for your child to vocalize their emotions rather than internalize them. Below are four common questions your child may ask as well as suggestions for how to answer them from the Harvard Health Blog:
- What is the novel coronavirus?
- The novel coronavirus is a kind of germ that can make people feel sick.
- Some people get less sick than others.
- Some people cough, which can make it hard to breathe.
- How do you catch this coronavirus?
- The virus spreads like the flu, a cold, or a cough.
- Germs spread through the air when someone sneezes or coughs without covering their mouth or nose.
- It can also be spread by touching dirty surfaces and not washing your hands.
- This is why it’s important to keep 6 feet of distance from people, sneeze and cough into your elbows, wash your hands regularly, and wear a face covering in public.
- Why are some people wearing masks? Should I wear a mask?
- Face masks help prevent the spread of germs from our noses and mouths.
- They may help prevent you from spreading and catching the virus.
- Even though you don’t have the virus, by wearing a face mask you are supporting the effort of stopping the spread of the virus.
- Can you die from the novel coronavirus?
- Yes, but there are more people who have caught the virus, have recovered, and are fine.
- Doctors are working really hard to keep an eye on anyone who is feeling sick to make sure they get better.
Safety, Reassurance, and Control
When discussing the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to share information calmly and reassuringly with your child. Communicate with a comforting tone while offering honest information, but no more than is necessary, to answer each question. Try not to show any signs of stress or become upset with your child’s questions. Remember that your demeanor during these conversations with your child will greatly influence how they react and perceive related media.
As a parent, you nurture your child’s sense of security and foster its progression through difficult times. This means that when speaking with your child, speak from a place of reassurance that expresses strength and hope. Your child will respond to the way that you convey these emotions in your conversations and will likely feel calmer with your reassurance.
After answering your child’s questions, provide them with information on things they can do to feel in control of their environment at all times. Specific actions such as regular hand washing, social distancing, and wearing and maintaining a clean face mask are excellent activities to prescribe to your child. These actions will empower your child with tools they can put into practice to make them feel safer during this pandemic.
Like Handwashing, Once Is Not Enough
During this time, it is especially important to monitor any news media your child may be accessing, so you are aware of the latest information they may have heard. Limit your child’s exposure to news reports and adult conversations about the current situation. In addition, outlets such as social media are prone to inaccurate information and rumors designed to frighten and engage the public, so be sure to closely monitor their use of cell phones and regularly check in with your child and ask them if they have any new questions for you. This practice will give you a way to dispel any misinformation your child has heard and steer the conversation back to a safe and secure balance.
You can open future conversations by introducing positive developments relating to the pandemic, such as increased family time and togetherness, hobby practice, community solidarity, and the reopening of businesses. However you continue the conversation, remember that it is best for your child to hear this information from you, and not having all the answers is okay; you can learn them together.
References and Resources
- Child Trends resources for supporting your child’s emotional well-being
- COVID-19: How to Talk to Your Child by KidsHealth
- Talking with children about Coronavirus Disease 2019 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- Talking to Children About Coronavirus (COVID19) from the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry
- How to talk to children about the coronavirus from Harvard Medical School
- Helping Children Cope With Changes Resulting From COVID-19 by National Association of School Psychologists
- #COVIBOOK: Supporting and Reassuring Children around the World is a free children’s workbook in multiple languages that helps them understand the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and explore their emotions about it
- Guidance on helping children cope with emergencies from the CDC
- Resources and tips for helping children stay socially connected and manage stress are available on the CDC website