By Laura Keys, LCSW – March 12, 2020 –

You don’t have to tune in the news to know how worried everyone is about the Coronavirus (COVID-19).  If adults are worried, it follows that children will be scared as well. 

I have had a lot of parents reach out to me in the past two weeks to get advice on how to discuss the virus with their children.  Because many children are hearing about it at school and online, it’s important to make sure they have accurate information. 

As always, it is best to make sure they are getting their primary information from you.  Many parents are wondering how to bring up the epidemic in a way that will be reassuring and not make kids more worried than they already are. Most experts agree to some general guidelines.

  1. Model composure – When I am on a bumpy flight, I always keep my eye on the flight attendant. If they are calm, I am calm. Children watch their parents every day in a multitude of situations. Even though you may be concerned yourself, it is important to model calmness when talking about the virus.
  2. Limit news exposure on the Coronavirus – Although the news can be helpful by keeping everyone informed, some news outlets tend to sensationalize current events to keep our attention. Some news coverage can have strong language and visuals that may be scary to a young child or lead to anxiety in an older child.  For this reason, it is best to limit this coverage when the kids are around, especially if they tend to be worriers by nature.
  3. Try to catch when your child is looking for reassurance – I’m sure all parents can remember times their children seemed to ask the same question over and over. It’s not that they weren’t listening the first time. Most likely your answer made them feel better, and they may need to feel better about something over and over if it’s scary to them. Try to answer their questions in a consistent and calm manner without bringing up that they have asked this “a thousand times.”  If you notice repeated reassurance seeking or you are not able to reassure them after several attempts, it might be helpful to seek extra support to help your children manage their anxiety.

Remember, everyone is working hard to manage the virus. There are many ways to prevent further spread. Practicing and modeling these simple behaviors can be a proactive measure for you and your child. Kids and grownups can try their best to stay healthy by continuing their usual activities while practicing these healthy behaviors:

  1. Sneeze or cough into tissues (and throw them away) or sneeze or cough into your elbow. This helps keep germs from traveling and making other people sick.
  2. Wash your hands with soap and water at the same times you usually do, like after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose. When you wash your hands, remember to count slowly to 20. (Parents can help by singing the ABCs or “Happy Birthday” with their children the number of times it takes for 20 seconds to pass. This helps children remember to wash for a sufficient amount of time.)
  3. Try to keep your hands out of your mouth, eyes, and nose.

For more information on kids and the coronavirus, visit the CDC’s website: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/talking-with-children.html.