How to Talk to Your Child About COVID-19

Mom talking to son about coronavirus

The current situation surrounding the novel coronavirus (or COVID-19) pandemic is new territory for all of us—and there’s no fear like the unknown. It’s completely natural to be fearful, overwhelmed and anxious during a crisis.

There are so many things out of our control right now, but one thing you can control is communication with your child. If you’re being flooded with information about this international pandemic, you’re not the only one feeling stressed or confused. Here are some tips for talking with your young child, teen or even young adult about the current novel coronavirus crisis.

My top tip? Don’t avoid the conversation. It’s natural to want to shield kids from fear, but they’re affected by this information whether we acknowledge it or not, and not acknowledging it can cause more harm than good.

Kids are already asking many of the same questions we are, so let them! Here’s how I would recommend initiating a conversation about COVID-19: 

  • Start by asking what they know.  Find out what information they already have. This allows you to start where they are and not give more information than they can handle.
  • Correct any misinformation you hear.  Is what your child heard about novel coronavirus or social distancing accurate? Especially with older kids, let them know that there are a lot of rumors and misinformation out there, but you can help them figure out what is real or not. 
  • Keep it simple and developmentally appropriate. Give them the facts—and only the facts they need. You wouldn’t want to give a teenager and first grader the same level of detail and information. Younger kids may be easily overwhelmed, so keep it simple and straightforward. 
  • It’s OK to not know. You won’t always have all the answers, so it’s more than OK to tell them you’re not sure and you will get back to them. 

It’s crucial to let your child express how they feel and acknowledge their feelings as valid and normal, even if it’s a tough conversation to have. Try to:

  • Be aware of your own feelings and try to stay calm. Even if we know all the facts, we can easily get worked up by rumors. Kids look to adults for cues on how to behave or react, so as hard as it may be, try to stay calm while talking to your kids. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and anxious, wait to talk to your kids until you’ve calmed down.
  • Acknowledge your child’s feelings. Even if you don’t agree or think it’s silly, those feelings are real to them. Let them know you understand by repeating back exactly what you hear, without judging or interpreting. It’s important for them to express their feelings, knowing their feelings are perfectly normal.
  • Avoid minimizing or dismissing. It’s natural to want to make kids feel better, but try to avoid saying things like, “You don’t need to worry about it.” Dismissing their fear doesn’t eliminate it—it only teaches them not to talk about it. Instead, acknowledge their feelings and help them manage them with the tips below. 

Talking with your kids and having a calm conversation about what’s going on can make them feel a little more in control and provide a sense of safety. To help with this:

  • Tell them experts are hard at work. Let them know that there are many people working on keeping us safe and healthy.
  • Assure them this crisis is temporary. Acknowledge that some activities are being canceled but this is not permanent.
  • Fight germs. Let your kids know there are simple habits they can practice to help prevent illness. Simple tips include washing their hands thoroughly and avoiding close contact with people who are showing signs of illness, like coughing and sneezing.

Sleep, exercise and balanced nutrition are always important for overall health and wellness. In addition, here are some things you can do to model and practice healthy habits with your entire family during this time:

  • Limit screen time. We are flooded with information and constant alerts on our phones, which can actually make our anxiety worse. Try and aim to be informed and take proper precautions without becoming obsessive and excessive. Take a break from the news, social media and conversations by putting phones away during mealtimes and shutting it down at least an hour before bedtime.
  • Maintain routines as much as possible. Some activities are being cancelled, but there are still some things you can do at home to maintain a sense of normalcy, such as keeping regular bedtimes and having family dinners. Consistent routines allow children to know what to expect, which creates a sense of safety and security.
  • Keep communication open. Keep the lines of communication open with your family so you can all rely on one another for comfort and support. This will help ensure that your kids know they can talk to you when they’re confused or anxious about anything.
  • Do things you enjoy. When we’re stressed, one of the best things we can do is make time for activities that make us feel calm and happy. Whether it’s going for a walk, singing your favorite music, reading a book or playing a family game, try to take time to help you and your family find a sense of enjoyment and calm.

We know no one has all the answers to combat this pandemic. We’re all receiving more and more information every day, so it’s important to create and maintain an open dialogue with your family. Let your kids know it’s OK to ask you questions and share their feelings.

And what about your feelings? Many of our tips can help you, too. Don’t forget to take care of yourself.

About The Author
Jody Baumstein, LCSW

Jody is a therapist, with a license in clinical social work, developing emotional wellness programming for Strong4Life.

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