Talking with Children About Covid-19

Messages for parents, school staff, and others working with children.

Talking with Children about COVID-19: Messages for parents, school staff, and others working with children.

As public conversations around coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) increase, children may worry about themselves, their family, and friends getting ill with COVID-19. Parents, family members, school staff, and other trusted adults can play an important role in helping children make sense of what they hear in a way that is honest, accurate, developmentally appropriate, and minimizes anxiety or fear. CDC has created guidance to help adults have conversations with children about COVID-19 and ways they can avoid getting and spreading the disease.

You know your children best. Let their questions be your guide as to how much information to provide. However, don’t avoid giving them the information that health experts identify as critical to ensuring your children’s health. Be patient; children and youth do not always talk about their concerns readily. Watch for clues that they may want to talk, such as hovering around while you do the dishes or yard work. It is very typical for younger children to ask a few questions, return to playing, then come back to ask more questions.

For many youth the intense discussions, media images, and messages that they are exposed to during COVID-19 can trigger a range of strong emotions. Some may experience anxiety which can present as sadness, fear, or worry, but can also make them irritable and angry. Some anxious youth keep their worries to themselves.  It is important to watch their sleep and eating patterns as they are often cues that they may be stressed or worried about something. Common changes to watch for can be found here.  

For youth experiencing stress, we can help by spending time with them, encouraging them to talk about their feelings, maintaining a sense of normalcy in their schedules and activities, and provide healthy coping strategies. Below are general principles for talking with children.

Remain calm and reassuring.

Remember that children will react to both what you say and how you say it. They will pick up cues from the conversations you have with them and with others. Our fear becomes their fear and our calm becomes their calm.

Make yourself available to listen and to talk.

Make time to talk. Be sure children know they can come to you when they have questions.

Avoid language that might blame others and lead to stigma.

Remember that viruses can make anyone sick, regardless of a person’s race or ethnicity. Avoid making assumptions about who might have COVID-19.

Pay attention to what children see or hear in the media

Consider reducing the amount of screen time focused on COVID-19. Too much information on one topic can lead to anxiety.

Provide information that is honest and accurate.

Give children information that is truthful and appropriate for the age and developmental level of the child.

Talk to children about how some stories on COVID-19 on the Internet and social media may be based on rumors and inaccurate information.

Teach children everyday actions to reduce the spread of germs.

Remind children to stay away from people who are coughing or sneezing or sick.

Remind them to cough or sneeze into a tissue or their elbow, then throw the tissue into the trash.

Discuss any new actions that may be taken at school to help protect children and school staff.
(e.g., increased handwashing, cancellation of events or activities)

Get children into a handwashing habit.

Teach them to wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after blowing their nose, coughing, or sneezing; going to the bathroom; and before eating or preparing food.

If soap and water are not available, teach them to use hand sanitizer. Hand sanitizer should contain at least 60% alcohol. Supervise young children when they use hand sanitizer to prevent swallowing alcohol, especially in schools and childcare facilities.

Coping Strategies are actions we take to deal with stress. They can be unhealthy; such as drinking and smoking or healthy such; reading and exerciseTo support emotional well-being and reduce stress, focus on healthy coping strategies. They may include the following; exercise, listening to music, journaling, reading, playing games, drawing, talking with a friend, etc.  Here is a great resources school counselors often use; The Coping Skills Toolbox by Baldwin County Public Schools.

Other Resources

National Association of School Psychologists; Talking to Children About COVID-19, A Parent Resource

Talking With Children: Tips for Caregivers, Parents, and Teachers During Infectious Disease Outbreaks

Coping With Stress During Infectious Disease Outbreaks

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)

Handwashing and Hand Sanitizer Use at Home, at Play, and Out and About

Brainpop

Common Sense Media

Alphabet of Stress Management and Coping Skills