Parent tips for talking about COVID-19
Remain calm and reassuring. Children will react to and follow your verbal and nonverbal reactions. What you say and do about COVID-19, current prevention efforts, and related events can either increase or decrease your children’s anxiety. Assure your child that he or she is safe right now. Remind them that you and the adults at their school are there to keep them safe and healthy. Discuss your plan on how your family will do their best to stay that way.
Make yourself available and find time to talk. Children may need extra attention from you and may want to talk about their concerns, fears, and questions. Listen to your child and let him or her express how he or she feels. Do not minimize your child’s emotions.
Ask what your child already knows about the coronavirus. It is likely that your child has watched or overheard numerous news reports. Your child has probably also received a lot of information about the virus from peers and teachers at school. Address rumors and misconceptions with facts. Don’t ignore their concerns, but rather explain that at the present moment very few people in this country are sick with COVID-19.
Talk to your child about factual information of this disease. In the absence of factual information, children often imagine situations far worse than reality. Calmly and briefly explain the facts to your child. Do not lie to your child, but do not give him or her more information than he or she is prepared to hear or needs in order to understand. Avoid excessive blaming. It is important to avoid stereotyping any one group of people as responsible for the virus. Bullying or negative comments made toward others should be stopped and reported to the school. Be aware of any comments that other adults are having around your family. You may have to explain what comments mean if they are different than the values that you have at home.
Facts for adults can be found at https://portal.ct.gov/Coronavirus
Keep the information developmentally appropriate.
- Early elementary school children need brief, simple information that should balance COVID-19 facts with appropriate reassurances that their schools and homes are safe and that adults are there to help keep them safe and healthy. Children can be told this disease is thought to be spread between people who are in close contact with one another—when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It is also thought it can be spread when you touch an infected surface or object, which is why it is so important to protect yourself. Give simple examples of the steps people take every day to stop germs and stay healthy, such as washing hands. Use language such as “adults are working hard to keep you safe.”
- Upper elementary and early middle school children will be more vocal in asking questions about whether they truly are safe and what will happen if COVID-19 comes to their school or community. They may need assistance separating reality from rumor and fantasy. Discuss efforts of school and community leaders to prevent germs from spreading.
- Upper middle school and high school students are able to discuss the issue in a more in-depth (adult-like) fashion and can be referred directly to appropriate sources of COVID-19 facts. Provide honest, accurate, and factual information about the current status of COVID-19. Having such knowledge can help them feel a sense of control.
Discuss what your child can do to protect themselves. Giving children guidance on what they can do to prevent infection gives them a greater sense of control over disease spread and will help to reduce their anxiety. Review and model basic hygiene and healthy lifestyle practices for protection and encourage your child to practice every day good hygiene—simple steps to prevent spread of illness:
- Wash hands multiple times a day for at least 20 seconds (singing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star slowly takes about 20 seconds).
- Cover their mouths with a tissue when they sneeze or cough and throw away the tissue immediately, or sneeze or cough into the bend of their elbow. Do not share food or drinks.
- Practice giving fist or elbow bumps instead of handshakes. Fewer germs are spread this way.
- Encourage your child to eat a balanced diet, get enough sleep, and exercise regularly; this will help them develop a strong immune system to fight off illness.
Limit television viewing or access to information on the Internet and through social media. Finding out how many new infections or deaths that there have been every day is not helpful or productive for your child. It will only cause unnecessary stress. Speak to your child about how many stories about COVID-19 on the Internet may be based on rumors and inaccurate information. Try to avoid watching or listening to information that might be upsetting when your children are present. This also means that parents need to be mindful of who is in the room when they are watching television to stay informed.
Maintain a normal routine to the extent possible. Keeping to a regular schedule, unless asked to change something by your government officials or school district, can be reassuring and promotes physical health. Consistency and routine are signals to your child that things are fine and “normal."
Communicate with school officials. Let your school know if your child is sick and keep them home. Your school may ask if your child has a fever or not. This information will help the school to know why your child was kept home. If your child is diagnosed with COVID-19, let the school know so they can communicate with and get guidance from local health authorities. Talk to your school nurse, school counselor, or school social worker if your child is having difficulties as a result of anxiety or stress related to COVID-19. They can give guidance and support to your child at school and be aware of the following signs and symptoms that your child may be struggling with anxiety or excessive worry:
- Refusal to attend school.
- Sleep disturbances such as nightmares, bedwetting, or insomnia.
- Problems with focus.
- Moodiness or irritability.
- Repetitive fears, especially of being separated from parents.
- Being easily startled or jumpy.
- Behavioral problems that are new or increased.
- Frequent physical complaints—headaches, stomachaches.
- Depressive symptoms—withdrawal from family or friends, less interest in things previously enjoyed, sadness, low energy, insomnia or sleeping too much
Additional resources for talking to your children about COVID-19 can be found at:
New York TImes: Talking to Teens and Tweens About Coronavirus
Child Mind Institute Talking to Kids About the Coronavirus