It can be impossible to avoid talking about the coronavirus. Everyone is talking about it, including your kids. They may hear information from friends, teachers, the news, and other family members. Your kids will have questions and you might be struggling to answer. Remember to give yourself a break and take a breath. You and many others are trying to get through each day.
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It’s OK to talk about COVID-19 with kids of all ages, as they lean on you for support and comfort when they feel stressed out. Keep the lines of communication open so they can always come to you. There’s a lot to be worried about, so your conversations are more important than ever.
Tips for Talking to Kids About COVID-19
Kids are coping with a lot of change because of COVID-19. Consider the following tips when talking to kids about the virus, their feelings, and how they can stay safe.
1. Don’t avoid it
Your child has probably heard about the virus and how it’s affected the world. Ask them to tell you what they know about the coronavirus and who they talk to about it. You can find out if they’ve heard rumors or inaccurate information.
Children can tell when adults are avoiding something. When kids sense your anxiety about the coronavirus, they may feel like it’s not OK to discuss. COVID-19 will be influencing the world for many months and years to come, so make it an open topic from the start.
2. Speak to your child when you are calm
Many people are mentally exhausted, emotionally overwhelmed, and worried about the future. They may feel OK for a while, then have a few days when everything is harder. You probably feel this way too, and that’s perfectly normal.
When you’re feeling calm and pulled together, talk with your child about the virus and everything that’s happened so far. Listen for signs of anxiety and speak in a reassuring way. You won’t always feel calm enough to talk like this, so take advantage when you can.
Avoid saying much when you’re overwhelmed or irritable. Kids pick up on their parents’ emotions, even when adults think they’re covering them up. On rough days, keep your answers short and turn off the news. Talk about neutral or positive things to boost your mood.
3. Talk to them about staying safe
People feel better about a problem when they can do something about it. Remind your kids about all the things they can do to stay healthy and safe. Talk about these activities frequently so they become more normal.
After a while, your kids will get comfortable going along with whatever you do. Stay up-to-date on the Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines, and keep your kids updated, too.
4. Tell them COVID-19 isn’t the same as typical mild illnesses
When kids hear about COVID-19 symptoms, they may start to worry about mild illnesses like a cold. Reassure your child that if they or someone in their family gets sick, it doesn’t mean they have COVID-19. Getting a little cough or a runny nose can happen for a lot of reasons, and people usually get better in a few days.
You want your child to let you know about their health, so a good first step could be to read books about health together to open up the conversation.
Most importantly, your child needs to feel safe and secure. They need to know that you will take care of them through sickness and health. Tell your child they can count on you for anything they need.
5. Tell your kids it’s OK to be stressed or uncertain about life now
Life is strange right now and so many things are different. Everyone's daily routines have changed a lot in the last several weeks. Your kids are feeling stressed, even if they don't show it in the way you expect. One child might cope with stress by staying in their room all day. Another may become hyper or irritable.
Tell your kids that it's OK to feel stressed or worried about things right now. Everyone feels this way and it's hard sometimes. When kids hold in their upset feelings, they can act and think in ways that aren't healthy. Tell your kids you understand and that you are there to help them.
6. Be honest, even if you don’t know
There’s a lot we don’t know about this virus and we all want answers. Tell your kids you don’t know everything about the virus, but that scientists around the world are learning more every day.
Comfort your kids, but don’t tell lies or make things up. Avoid promising that your child won’t get the virus or that everything will be normal by a specific date. These kinds of comments may seem comforting at first, but they may come back to haunt you later. Stay hopeful and positive about the future, but be clear that you don’t know exactly how things will be later on.
Living with so much uncertainty is uncomfortable for everyone. Remind your kids that we can all help each other through it, even when so many things are strange and different.
7. Limit your child’s exposure to media
Know how much information your child can handle. If they are curious and want to talk, you could be a bit more open with them. Some kids find information comforting, but you don’t have to answer every question just because they ask. Curious kids can get easily overloaded with worrisome news.
Limit your child’s exposure to news media, especially if they have emotional sensitivities or a history of trauma. Media outlets often use alarming words and scary images to grab attention.
While, at times, this may be unavoidable, tell your child what they need to know, but make sure you control the message.
Tips for Talking to Kids About Deaths From Coronavirus
Death is a reality with the coronavirus. Most people recover with mild symptoms, but your kids may already know that some people have died. These tips can help you talk to your kids about death and the COVID-19 outbreak.
1. Be honest and concrete about death
Your child may ask you if people can die from the coronavirus. Be honest, but don’t say more than you need to. Kids process this kind of information a little bit at a time, so they may ask questions about death more than once.
With young children, avoid describing death as a person sleeping or going away. Instead, use concrete words explaining how the heart stops beating and the body doesn’t work anymore.
Keep your description simple and accurate without going into topics that might scare your child. Tell them that death is rare and that most people will get sick and recover. A few people may need to go to the hospital to get better.
Read these tips for talking to your kids about death for more.
2. Let your kids talk with loved ones that may be at risk
Your kids probably know by now that older people can get sicker than others from this virus. Being honest about this is important, but kids might get worried about their grandparents or older neighbors.
To put their fears at ease, set up an online video call, or make a phone call. Let your kids see and hear the people they are worried about. Schedule your calls frequently so your kids can look forward to some fun social time.
3. Tell them lots of doctors and nurses are helping
Fred Rogers famously said, “Look for the helpers,” when discussing tragedy shown on the news. If you discuss deaths from COVID-19, be clear that death is rare, but it does happen.
Then redirect the conversation to the medical staff that help take care of sick people. Tell them how they are working hard to protect themselves and others from the virus. By helping your child focus on something proactive, they can pay less attention to their worries about death.
4. Understand your child’s developmental level
Magical thinking is common among young children. They may believe that a person who dies is gone on a trip and could come back. They may also believe their thoughts can cause things to happen, like a person dying. Children learn that death is permanent around age 9, which is when fear of death can begin.
Ask your child what worries them about people who die from coronavirus. They may be concerned about specific people dying, like you or their grandparents. They may wonder what it’s like to die from an illness like COVID-19. Once you know what’s on their mind, you can help them talk about their fears.
Conversations About COVID-19
Kids have questions about the coronavirus and all the strange things everyone’s doing to stay safe. You can be honest with your child without overwhelming them, even when they ask about death.
Let your child know you’ll help them with their feelings and keep them safe. If you or anyone in your family ever feel overwhelmed by the coronavirus situation, you may find online counseling helpful.
If you're looking for more on how to talk to kids about difficult topics, read our guides on how to talk to children and toddlers about cancer and how to tell a child about putting their pet down.
- Fassler, David. “Talking to Children About Coronavirus (COVID19)” aacap.org, www.aacap.org/App_Themes/AACAP/Docs/latest_news/2020/Coronavirus_COVID19__Children.pdf
- “How to Talk to My Child About Coronavirus.” March 27, 2020, www.issaquah.wednet.edu/family/supports/community/health-care-services/how-to-talk-to-my-child-about-coronavirus
- Melnyk, Bernadette. “How to Talk to Your Children About the Coronavirus and Ease Their Anxiety.” March 13, 2020, wexnermedical.osu.edu/blog/how-to-talk-to-your-children-about-the-coronavirus-and-ease-their-anxiety
- “Squirrel Hill: Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.” October 28, 2018, www.npr.org/2018/10/28/661520361/squirrel-hill-mr-rogers-neighborhood
- Turner, Cory. “The Dog Isn’t Sleeping: How to Talk to Children About Death.” npr.org, March 4, 2019, www.npr.org/2019/03/04/698309351/the-dog-isnt-sleeping-how-to-talk-with-children-about-death