Talking to your kids about the novel coronavirus disease


by Meera Beharry, MD

Mar 18, 2020

As a parent during the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s no avoiding the topic of conversation with your kids. News about the virus is everywhere, and children of all ages are feeling the effects. With school closures, event cancellations, quarantine fears and unusual work-from-home policies, your kids may be asking some tough questions.

Here are a few pediatrician-approved strategies to help you filter the information and talk about COVID-19 in a way your kids can understand.

Keep calm

First and foremost, take a deep breath and know that you can do this. I know it’s a stressful time but as parents, it’s important for us to keep a level head for the sake of our children.

If you are calm and cautious, your kids will be calm and cautious.

Don’t forget to take care of yourself, too. Follow this psychologist’s advice for ways to cope with the stress and uncertainty.

Monitor news exposure

As with any crisis or national emergency, limiting exposure to media and other sources of stress can help keep the situation from becoming overwhelming. At all times, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a limit of 2 hours of recreational screen time

When there are disturbing images or disturbing information, screen and media access should be limited further. For young children, be sure and keep an eye on the news they are exposed to. Keep them away from frightening images and videos on the news, social media, etc.

Older children may benefit from talking about what they’re seeing and hearing on the news. Ask them how they feel about what is going on and be sure to clear up any misinformation or rumors.

Explain the situation simply

If your child seems worried or expresses confusion about what’s going on, it’s important to address their concerns in a way they can understand.

Try to explain the situation in simple terms. How you talk about COVID-19 will vary based on the age of your child or teen. Try these age-specific tips to make sure you’re addressing their worries in a helpful way.

Be reassuring

Children always look to their parents for help when they’re scared, and COVID-19 will be no exception. Remind them that doctors around the world are doing everything they can to keep everyone safe from the virus.

It doesn’t help to pretend like the crisis is not happening, so avoid the temptation to put on a façade for your children. However, be reassuring and optimistic to help calm their fears. Comfort your kids and let them know you’re here for them, no matter what.

Watch for signs of anxiety

Children, especially those of a young age, may not have the words to express their fears and worries. However, you may notice changes in mood, sleep difficulties or other signs that your child is feeling stressed.

Try to stick to your normal routines and sleep schedules as best you can, even if confined to your home. Give anxious kids plenty of reassurance and support.

Related: How to talk to your kids about mental health

Plan fun at-home activities

Playing games, working a puzzle and cooking a meal together are great ways to stay active and occupied while at home. Now is the time to get creative!

Teach healthy habits

Use this opportunity to teach proper hand hygiene and healthy habits that can help prevent the spread of germs. Make sure you and your children are following CDC guidelines to protect your family, including:

  • Frequent hand washing. This means 20 seconds of contact with soap and water. Learn more about proper hand washing technique from the CDC.
  • Avoid sharing drinks or food.
  • Avoid touching the face.
  • Cough and sneeze into a tissue or your elbow.
  • Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces often — and explain to your kids how that helps prevent germs.

Get answers to frequently asked questions about COVID-19.

About the Author

Meera Beharry is an adolescent medicine pediatrician on the medical staff at McLane Children's Scott & White Clinic – Temple and McLane Children's Scott & White Specialty Clinic – Hillcrest. She enjoys traveling, baking, reading, dancing and her new hobby of sailing! She had a mild case of “busy kid syndrome” as a teenager and would have suffered greatly if her parents did not put limits on her activities.

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