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Talking to kids about this phase of re-opening

Mom putting hand sanitizer in child's hand

As local authorities ease restrictions on businesses opening and people gathering, we all have questions about how to make smart decisions to keep our families safe. And if we grown-ups are scratching our heads, you can bet our kids have questions, too. As much as doctors wish we could provide all the answers, we just don’t have them. What we do have, though, are some helpful guidelines for making the best calls for your family.

It’s always smart to practice good hygiene habits

  • Teach and reinforce washing hands for at least 20 seconds (sing “Happy Birthday” or another song).
  • Cover coughs and sneezes with your elbow.
  • Teach and reinforce use of cloth face coverings (for those over age 2). Face coverings are most essential in times when physical distancing is not possible. Everyone should frequently be reminded not to touch the face covering and to wash their hands frequently.
  • Change clothes when you get home from anywhere else.
  • Sanitize keys, phones and other high-touch items and surfaces frequently.

Follow CDC-based guidelines set by local authorities

The virus is still in our communities, so it is important to know that there is still a risk in being around people outside of those with whom you live. That is why a phased approach to re-opening is so essential. Stay up-to-date on the latest guidance from your city and county health departments, from the Centers for Disease Control, and from sites like Comeback KC. Follow them on social media to get automatic updates.

Consider Your Family’s Unique Needs

Every family is different, and you can talk about those differences with kids. Maybe yours has been able to quarantine fully and take minimal trips to get groceries and household supplies. Perhaps you have continued working and the kids have been going to daycare, meaning you come into contact with more people more regularly. The more exposure to more people, the higher the risk. If anyone in your family has continued working or spending time outside of your home, it is especially important to minimize other social contact with people. If you have been able to minimize time spent around others, it may be safe to slowly expand your social circle with a small number of people.

Families are also unique in their health conditions. If you or anyone in your home has underlying health issues such as diabetes, heart disease or a compromised immune system, it is still very important to minimize contact with other people. Even if everyone in your home is healthy, be cautious about getting together with others who have health concerns. For instance, grandparents may be missing their grandkids, but they need to know that they are still at risk if they have underlying health factors. It is best to get together with those who are also at a low risk so you don’t put anyone at a higher risk.

Check in about mental health

As restrictions are lifted, talk with your family members about mental health and self-care needs. If someone is struggling with the isolation, listen to their need and come up with solutions together. If you can safely plan an outing that would help them feel better, it is important to do so. Listen to kids. What do they need that would make them feel a little bit better? Let them know that you care about how they are feeling. You won’t be able to say yes to every request they make, but you may be able to find good compromises. Maybe they can’t go to a sleepover, but they can have one friend over to play outside. Maybe they can’t participate in group sports, but they can go on bike rides with friends. Give kids choices when possible.

Return to Activities Safely

As more businesses and activities open back up, it can be confusing to know whether your family members should participate and how to stay safe if you do. Children’s Mercy has put together some Tips for Returning to Community Activities Safely to give you the information you need about getting back to sports, pools, daycares, camps and communities of faith. In addition, we have some helpful hints for other reasons why you might be getting out and about.

Eating Out

  • Sit outside when possible. Increased airflow reduces risk of the virus spreading.
  • Make sure the restaurants you go to have seating spaced to give social distance between your family and others.
  • Do not share utensils, cups or food, even with family members.
  • Wash hands before and after eating.


  • Keep them to 1 or 2 friends.
  • Plan activities with social distancing built-in, like bike riding or fishing.
  • Avoid sleepovers.


  • Don’t spend more time than necessary in the waiting room. If you arrive early, wait in your car or outside until close to your appointment time. You can ask the receptionist to call you when you need to go inside.
  • Wear a mask indoors.
  • Socially distance as much as possible while inside.


  • Stick to virtual gatherings or in-person gatherings with no more than 10 people.
  • Maintain social distance and wear masks.
  • Gather outside if possible.
  • Do not invite anyone high risk (elderly or immunocompromised individuals).

Shopping Trips

  • Shop solo if possible. More people shopping together puts more people at risk.
  • Kids touch everything, so it’s best if they stay home. If they must come to the store with you, use hand sanitizer, masks and gloves.

How to Talk to Kids About Why Some Restrictions Have Changed but Not All

Kids think mostly in terms of black and white, so it is understandable that they will be confused by lifting restrictions gradually. You can reduce that confusion by being honest and keeping it simple. Share with them the reason we still have restrictions is that the virus still exists and there is still a risk that people can get very sick. Help them understand that every family is different and that your family may have different restrictions than their friends’ families. Let them know that we all need to protect higher-risk individuals from getting sick.

If they are old enough to understand, you can share with them the guidelines you are using from authorities to make smart decisions for your family. It is also OK to say “I don’t know” or “We are learning together.” If kids are oblivious to COVID-19, do not feel the need to burst their bubble. Answer the questions they have, and that’s enough.

How to Address Questions About When Will Things Be Back to Normal

“When will things be normal again?” is an impossible question to answer right now. It’s ok to tell kids that you don’t know. It is better to be honest than to guess at a timeline and set them up for disappointment. What you can tell them is that a lot of people are working very hard to keep us safe and to find the answers to our questions. You can assure them you are following the guidelines set by experts and using your best judgment to make the right choices for your family. Assure them that you will tell them everything they need to know to stay safe. Together, think of ways you can make life at home as normal as possible under the current circumstances.

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Child & Adolescent Psychiatry

Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine; Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry & Behavioral Science, University of Kansas School of Medicine