We’re all concerned about getting sick right now. But if your child has an intense fear of germs, and trouble functioning at school or at home because of it, they may be dealing with some degree of germ phobia (aka “germaphobia”).

During this coronavirus pandemic when we’re all feeling afraid of germs, how can you help your child?

Pediatric psychologist Melissa Santos, PhD, shares tips.

1. Take care of yourself and your own germ phobia.

Kids pick up on the fears of adults. Take care of yourself and seek support if you’re struggling with your own anxiety or obsessive-compulsive behaviors around germs. Your primary care doctor is always a good place to start or you can contact 211 in Connecticut for a list of resources in your community.

2. As always when it comes to COVID-19, model calm.

If you are calm and reassuring when you talk to your child about germs and the pandemic, it’ll help them feel less anxious. So whether you’re reminding your child to wear their mask properly or wash their hands when they walk in the door, use a soothing, positive tone of voice. And have some fun with it – come up with some fun songs you all can sing while washing your hands, create some fun masks to wear or decorate the ones you have.

3. Make a list of when it’s necessary to wash hands.

It’s important for all of us to wash our hands frequently and thoroughly. But a child who is struggling with anxiety about germs may take handwashing and cleaning rituals to an unhealthy extreme. If your child is overwhelmed by feeling they need to wash hands non-stop, give them specific, concrete rules to refer to. For example, post a list around home with when to wash hands:

  • After going to the bathroom
  • Before and after eating
  • After sneezing, coughing or blowing their nose
  • When they arrive home
  • When there is something on their hands (dirt, food, sticky material)

4. If your child is already practicing healthy habits, limit how often you bring up germs.

Is your child already washing their hands when they should, wearing their mask properly, and practicing social distancing? Consider dialing down how much you talk about germs.

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5. Make an effort to focus on topics other than coronavirus.

At home, highlight the aspects of your child’s life that can feel normal right now – like starting a weekly game night to look forward to.

6. But follow your child’s lead: If they want to talk about COVID-19, be available.

Have an open, developmentally appropriate conversation. Focus on responding to what your child already knows, clearing up any misunderstandings and helping them keep things in perspective.

7. Make sure your child feels comfortable talking about their fears.

One of the most powerful ways you can help your child manage stress and anxiety is to encourage them to talk about it. Here are 7 steps to help your child process their feelings about coronavirus.

8. Redirect your child’s fears.

If your child is experiencing a lot of anxiety about germs and COVID-19, use it as an opportunity to talk about what they have control over: quarantining at home when sick, staying away from sick people, wearing a mask, and social distancing. Some kids and families have found it helpful to keep a gratitude log – a time at the end of each day to write down one thing they have been grateful for in their day.

9. Help your child practice self-care.

Include times throughout the day to focus on relaxation and helping to calm your child’s mind. Figure out what helps your child relax – whether that’s reading, exercising, getting fresh air, or listening to music. Help them create a coping toolbox or a DIY calming bottle. Guide them to discover ways to express their emotions, from talking with you to journaling to art.

10. Focus on healthy habits.

In addition to professional support, these coping strategies have been shown to help with anxiety and depression.

  • Establish routines to structure the day
  • Eat nutritious, balanced meals
  • Get exercise
  • Get enough sleep
  • Spend time outdoors and in nature
  • Strengthen relationships
  • Practice self-care
  • Practice relaxation techniques like yoga, mindfulness and meditation

11. Get support managing your child’s germ phobia during COVID-19.

If your child’s fear of germs is leading to panic, tantrums, excessive handwashing or cleaning rituals, repeated requests for reassurance, or otherwise interfering with their daily life, they may need mental health support.

Reach out to your child’s pediatrician or your insurance provider for help finding a therapist. A trained professional may be able to help your child become more aware when their worries are unrealistic, learn relaxation skills, and gradually face their fears of germs.


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