Talking to children about Coronavirus

23 Mar 2020
Talking to children about Coronavirus

Given the challenges the world is currently facing regarding COVID-19, we may feel like we have been inundated with media coverage and news on effects it will have on our daily lives.

You may find your children asking questions about Coronavirus, or about other concerns they may hear about on the news. With increasing coverage on social media, television and radio, these issues can reach even the youngest children and can cause lingering feeling of anxiety and fear due to remote exposure. Having a plan to discuss these topics in an age-appropriate way can be important to maintaining their mental health.

While this can be a difficult topic to approach with younger children and can be challenging to talk about, it is important to encourage your children to talk about their fears and support the child around these feelings.

  • The information parents give should depend on the questions children ask. If your children are asking questions about COVID-19, explore what they understand of it, what they think happens and ask them what they are worried about.
  • Discuss topics in an age appropriate way – try and avoid an information overload and only discuss what is necessary to soothe their fears.
  • Balance the good news with the ‘bad’ news and try to emphasise the good outcomes. For example, talk about situations where people have demonstrated kindness or communities helping those in need, or that health officials are working hard to keep people safe and healthy.
  • Acknowledge their thoughts and feelings and help them give a name to their feelings, gently and tentatively. Eg. “Are you sad, worried, mad, glad, concerned?”
  • It is important for parents to have calm, relaxed persona so that the child feels safe to talk about their concerns. Ensure you offer good eye contact, and lots of hugs.
  • Offer a solution. For example, “when you feel worried and scared, come and tell me.”
  • Make sure you listen to their concerns and respond, rather than dismissing them. 
  • Be honest, direct and keep things simple.

Here are some tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on how to teach children everyday actions to reduce the spread of germs.

Kids and adults are alike in that we feel more distressed when we feel helpless and passive and more comfortable when we are taking action.

  • 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 rubbish bin.
  • 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.Young children might find it more engaging to be taught to sing two rounds of Happy Birthday, to help them get a sense of how long to take in washing their hands.