Helping Children Understand COVID-19: What to Say and What to Do

Uncertainty in our lives creates stress for both we adults and the children who look to us for guidance. With COVID-19, it is hard to sort on all the information that is being presented and changing at such a fast rate. But our children are watching and listening to us, and to the radio and tv. They are hearing worried adults. Their schools have just been closed for the foreseeable future. They can’t see their friends or grandparents. Plans for birthdays and trips have been canceled. What they have known to be their world is now a big unknown. It is up to us to get on board with some basics on communicating with children during times of adversity. Here are some tips:

Ÿ Limit children’s access to the tv, radio, and internet news about COVID-19. Seeing the numbers increase daily of people infected and hearing of people dying from this virus creates, fear, stress, and worry.

Ÿ Be aware of what is being said. Be honest. Watch your words. Right now, the word pandemic to some sounds like the end of the world. It does not mean that. Pandemic means a disease that is happening over a whole country or the world. There are several video games, tv shows, movies, and books that are based in a post pandemic world. That is not our reality. Clarify the meaning of words such as virus, precautions, infectious, isolation, influenza, and other words they are hearing through the media.

Ÿ Describe what a virus is and what we are learning about this new virus. COVID-19 is a fast moving, highly infectious disease that has spread over the whole world. But many very smart people are taking action to help slow and stop it from spreading. We are learning what to do from other countries that went through it and are doing better now. And we can do our part to help as well.

Ÿ Point out examples of what is being done to prevent people from getting sick: Closing schools temporarily, not going on trips or to public places, not hanging out with our friends, stocking up on food so we don’t have to go to the store so often, and that there are scientists working on this problem.

Ÿ Let them know that things are not shutting down because all of the people are dying from COVID-19. Children can’t always make the mental leap that closing schools, canceling birthday parties and trips, and seeing empty stores is a health and safety precaution. Their video games, tv shows and books don’t show that part of how to stop a pandemic.

Ÿ Be clear that most people who do get sick will get better. Also, be honest that some won’t; but the number of people who get sick and die from COVID-19 is only a small number and not everyone who gets the virus will die from it.

Ÿ Tell them we don’t know how long we will have to be like this but that they will eventually get to go back to school and play with their friends and do all of things they did before this.

Ÿ Develop your own list of things that you and your children can do to help while also having a good time. Make a mini-staycation at home. Part of this time off from school is Spring Break. Create a new routine and some structure. Teach your children to cook something, have a book club, or get the yard and garden ready for spring. The internet is offering all sorts of free virtual tours of places, free exercise programs, free art lessons. Have everyone pick one thing they would like to try. Go outside and take a walk or hike on a trail or a nearby field. Just practice staying six feet away from others that you might see along the way. Create signs to offer to help neighbors with yard work or taking out the garbage. Or just to check in and make sure they are ok. Find a meditation app and vote on which one you like best. Most schools have one on your child’s school iPad. If you miss school lunches, there are several places offering “grab n go” lunches for children. Go find your favorite one. Call, FaceTime, or write letters to family and friends that you can’t visit.

Ÿ Take time to pamper yourself now that you have time. Be patient, be kind, and remind yourself and your family that this is not forever.