How To Talk To Kids About COVID-19
How To Talk To Kids About Coronavirus
As news about coronavirus COVID-19 cases in our community continues to spread, our children have begun to hear about the outbreak and discuss it. While we wouldn’t want to worry our children unnecessarily with information like this, now that they have some knowledge, we need to reassure them and to make sure that the information that they have is accurate and not overblown. The best way to talk to children about the virus is in a calm, matter-of-fact, and developmentally appropriate way that focuses on proactive prevention strategies. Take a few moments to speak with your children about the situation, to gauge their level of anxiety and whether their knowledge is accurate or exaggerated. The conversation can be simple and brief.
Here are some guidelines (adapted from the Child Mind Institute) as well as resources you can use.
- Don’t be afraid to discuss the coronavirus. Most children have already heard about it and avoiding talking about it can make them worry more. Look at the conversation as an opportunity to convey the facts and set the emotional tone. Your goal is to help your children feel informed and get fact-based information that is likely more reassuring than whatever they’re hearing from their friends or on the news.
- Be developmentally appropriate. You know your children best. Let their questions be your guide as to how much information to provide. However, don’t avoid giving them the information that health experts identify as critical to ensuring your children’s health. Be patient; children and youth do not always talk about their concerns readily. Watch for clues that they may want to talk, such as hovering around while you do the dishes or yard work. It is very typical for younger children to ask a few questions, return to playing, then come back to ask more questions.
- Take your cues from your children. Invite your children to tell you anything they may have heard about the coronavirus, and how they feel. Give them ample opportunity to ask questions. You want to be prepared to answer (but not prompt) questions. Your goal is to avoid encouraging frightening fantasies.
- Deal with your own anxiety. Your children will learn the most from your body language and the emotions you convey. You want to display almost a swagger, with muted concern together with confidence in the prevention efforts. Many of us are feeling anxious because this is close to home. Check in with yourself to notice your own feelings. Inform yourself about the actual risk and danger (far less, for example, than the flu) to make sure your reaction is in proportion to those. If you notice that you are feeling anxious, take some time to calm down before trying to have a conversation.
- Be reassuring. Children are very egocentric, so hearing about the coronavirus on the news may be enough to make them seriously worry that they’ll catch it. It’s helpful to reassure your child about how rare the coronavirus actually is (the flu is much more common) and that kids actually seem to be far less susceptible to it.
- Focus on what you’re doing to stay safe. An important way to reassure kids is to emphasize the safety precautions that you are taking. Kids feel empowered when they know what to do to keep themselves safe. Tell them that the coronavirus is transmitted mostly by coughing and touching surfaces. Remind kids that they are taking care of themselves by washing their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds when they come in from outside, before they eat, and after blowing their nose, coughing, sneezing or using the bathroom. If kids ask about face masks, explain that the experts say they are really only necessary for people who are sick so they don’t cough and sneeze on people.
- Keep talking. Tell kids that you will continue to keep them updated as you learn more. You can say even though we don’t have the answers to everything right now, know that once we know more, you will let you know, too.
- Here is a comic that explains the virus to children.
- This is a very helpful explainer video from Brain Pop that explains it in a matter-of-fact and engaging way.
- This video, also from Brain Pop, is great for the younger grades.
- For further information, from NASP (National Association of School Psychologists): Talking to Children About COVID-19 (Coronavirus): A Parent Resource
If you or your child is experiencing anxiety due to Coronavirus, consider contacting JFS to schedule a session with one of our highly trained therapists. Call 973-777-7638 or email email@example.com.
Our prayers are with all of those who are sick or quarantined from around the world, may Hashem protect us and our families from any harm.