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Talking to kids about COVID-19

Children are becoming more and more aware of the coronavirus — though they may not fully understand it or know how seriously to take it — as it begins to affect their daily lives with school closures, event cancellations and travel restrictions. With this, many parents are trying to figure out how to talk to their children about the virus.

Here are a few tips to try and help guide your conversations.

  • Make sure to check in with your own thoughts and feelings about the virus before talking with your child. It’s important for you to be prepared for the conversation, not just with facts about COVID-19, but also emotionally so you are prepared to answer their questions. Remember, if they ask a question you don’t have the answer to, be honest and say you don’t know but will find out.
  • It’s good to start by asking what they have heard. Many kids have already been exposed to some information about coronavirus. By starting the conversation asking what they already know, it allows you to correct any misinformation they may already have received.
  • Use kid friendly language that won’t alarm them. Keep in my mind the age of the child and use developmentally appropriate explanations. You can share that this virus is kind of like the flu that maybe your child or a family member has had in the past. Explain that for most people, it is mild and that kids generally get mild cases of coronavirus.
  • Remain calm and encourage them to do the same. Reassure your child by letting them know that lots of people — doctors, family members, teachers, etc. — are taking precautions to keep everyone safe.
  • Talk to your child about what they can do: cough into their elbow, wash hands often (and for 20 seconds at a time) and try not to touch their eyes, nose and mouth, particularly with unwashed hands. They should also keep in mind the importance of contact with others — while hugs for mom, dad and family are OK limit their contact with others, especially those that might be sick.
  • Continue to check back and encourage kids to come to you with questions. After your conversation, ask your child some questions to confirm what they heard. Encourage them to come to you with any questions they may have. By keeping the dialogue going, it gives you an opportunity to address any concerns quickly.

In addition to talking with your kids to make sure kids understand what COVID-19 is, there are also a few tips to help kids adjust to the changes around them.

  • Stick to routines and schedules, within guidelines, to maintain consistency. Obviously, you are going to have some changes to your normal routine, as schools close and events are canceled/postponed, but keeping normal sleep and wake times will help make kids feel like life is continuing as normal.
  • Remember to take media breaks. While having the news on constantly provides you with updates, it allows for a lot of exposure to some scary information that may be too much for your child to manage. There are resources that are well vetted such as this kid friendly comic shared by an NPR reporter.

There are lots of great resources online to help keep you up-to-date surrounding COVID-19. Here are a few resources developed by the team at Children’s Mercy:

COVID-19: What you need to know

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Child Psychology

Child Psychologist; Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine