8 Tips for Talking to Kids About Coronavirus

As schools and communities take extra precautions to prevent the spread of coronavirus, it’s bound to affect your family’s routines, spring break plans or at the very least, dinner conversation. Even very young children may have questions about what’s going on.

How do you approach that conversation?

Developmental pediatrician Robert D. Keder, MD, joins the blog with tips.

TIP: For specific examples of what to say, read Answering Your Child’s Questions About Coronavirus.

Take a deep breath and model calm.

Kids look to adults to see how scary a situation is. They pick up on your verbal and nonverbal cues. It is important to find ways to manage your own anxiety if you have any. Talk with a friend, family member, or counselor. Inform yourself by reading resources like our Coronavirus FAQs, and do your best to look at the bigger picture. Remind yourself, just as you’ll remind your child, that we are all taking the right steps to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Acknowledge your child’s fears and comfort them.

If your child is scared about something they’ve seen or heard, a simple “you’ll be fine” may not help (and may cause more stress, if they think you’re hiding something). So listen to what your child says, and help them put their feelings into words with neutral observations like, “You sound worried.” Share an age-appropriate example from your own childhood when you were scared. Note: If your child repeatedly expresses fear or seems to be struggling with anxiety, ask your pediatrician to recommend mental health professionals who could help.

Find out what they already know (or think they know).

Start the conversation by asking what your child has already heard about coronavirus. If they don’t know anything, you may choose not to bring it up, and instead simply focus on talking about handwashing and other good health habits. If they’ve heard it’s like the flu, build on that information. But if, for example, they have already heard that some people have died, focus on making sure they have their facts straight, putting things into perspective, and explaining that there are a lot of things we are doing to keep everyone safe.

> Want help getting your family through COVID-19? Check out our School Closure Kit

Speak to them at an age-appropriate level.

Do your best to put information into words your child can understand, and if they’re younger, to be thoughtful about whether and how to share any details that might make their imaginations run wild. (Read examples of what to say here.)

Frame things in familiar terms.

Explain that coronavirus is similar to a cold or flu, which will help your child understand that most people have dealt with this type of illness before. Reinforce basic health routines that kids already know and understand: Wash your hands, get a good night’s sleep, stay home when you’re feeling sick.

Emphasize the positive.

If your child is anxious about how coronavirus might affect them or the people they know, let them know that it doesn’t seem to affect most kids, and explain that schools, communities and family are taking special steps to keep everyone safe. Give them a sense of control by explaining the steps they can take, like washing their hands really well. Finally, reassure them that lots of scientists, doctors and other adults are working on keeping everyone healthy.

Keep up routines.

It’s important to be aware of coronavirus, and some changes to your routine may be unavoidable if schools close or communities take special steps to prevent its spread. But as much as possible, keep your child busy with their studies and hobbies, and find ways for your family to continue their daily life.

Invite your child to use their coping skills.

Many children will find themselves out of school for several days or missing out on sporting events. This can be sad and stressful. Think about what helps your child relax and invite them to do that activity. This can be coloring or drawing, playing board games, listening or playing music, dancing, or simply making a meal together. If the weather is nice, children can still go outside to play in the yard or go for a run.

Learn more about coronavirus >>

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