Practical Tips Talking To Kids About Coronavirus

By: Ruthie Bashan, MA-AT
Jewish Family Service of Clifton-Passaic

We recently woke up to a new reality, stranger than fiction – schools are closing, people are working from home… Words like “quarantine” and “social distancing” have a real, scary, immediate meaning to us all.

We are all under a lot of pressure. The uncertainty and confusion are anxiety-provoking for adults and children alike. Children understand that something is happening – their school is closed, and they are instructed to wash their hands non-stop. They see and feel our stress.

Should we speak with our kids about Coronavirus?

1. Use age appropriate language and avoid using medical terms. Your children may not know what a virus is, but they know what being sick means. They may not understand “hygiene” – but they know what it means to wash their hands.

2. Talk to your children clearly and openly, and be prepared to answer tough questions.

3. Use active and passive listening. Be present when speaking with them. Pay attention to what they say and ask, and to their body language.


How to initiate the conversation?

1. Start with a simple question, “Did you hear about the coronavirus?” Let your child answer. Listen to what your child already knows, and how much is correct.

2. Ask, “What do you think of all of it? Is it scary? Interesting? Did you hear or see things that you don’t understand, or are curious about?”

3. LISTEN. PAY ATTENTION. Be present, remain calm, and do not rush to correct anything. This will validate your child’s experience and create open communication. Let them know that you are in control, and that they can ask whatever they want or need to know.


How to respond to your children?

1. Start by explaining relevant terms:

· Coronavirus is a sickness, like a cold or the flu.

· It is contagious. It spreads from one person to another, like when you hug someone, shake their hand or if they cough on you. That’s why there is no school and no play dates.

· The best way to prevent people from spreading the virus is to make sure that people will not get it. That’s why we need to stay at home and practice “social distancing.” We don’t want to get the virus, or spread it to others if we are sick. It’s like staying away from school when you have a fever.

· Explain to your child what “quarantine” means. Young children will be concerned that they will need to be alone, or sent away from their home. They will be afraid that you won’t be able to tuck them in at night, or give them a shower. Discuss it with them. Reassure them that you will be together with them.

2. Discuss why there are no play dates and friends are not coming over to your house.

3. Plan family activities and fun ways to spend time together. Make a list of activities and let them add them to their daily schedule. You give them funny names, like “corona time-off” or “family social distancing fun time.”

4. Create a schedule for each child to establish a routine, and to give them structure to their day. Create set times for daily chores, schoolwork, dinner, bedtime, etc.

5. Expect, accept, and discuss boredom.

6. Discuss working from home. What does it mean, and what will be needed – for example, quiet when you are on the phone. Brainstorm with your children to find solutions together.

7. You can make a video diary, or a “Corona Journal” with your children. Buy puzzles and fun games that you will all enjoy.


How to help yourself cope?

1. Create time and space to be alone – for you and for your children. We will all need breaks from each other. We can only be there for others, if we are taking care of ourselves.

2. Try to spend individual time with each child. Play a game, or do an activity together – anything that you both enjoy. Children of all ages need to feel our love in a tangible way.

3. As responsible adults, it is YOUR role to absorb your children’s anxiety. If you are anxious, take a deep breath, drink some water, speak with your spouse, or your adult friends.