Know the Facts about Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)

Ask a Doc: Talking to Your Kids About COVID-19

Adam Weis, MD, Pediatrician at Rochester Regional Health, says talking to children about the new coronavirus can be challenging for parents and guardians.

March 25, 2020

Woman talking to her child about coronavirus

As the COVID-19 outbreak evolves across the globe, we continue to learn more about the new coronavirus and how it is impacting our families and community. So, how do we explain the coronavirus to our children in a way that educates them without causing anxiety or fear?

Adam Weis, MD, Pediatrician at Rochester Regional Health, says talking to your children about the new coronavirus can be challenging for parents and guardians. He tries to heed his own advice when talking to his four children, ranging in age from six to six months old, about the pandemic.

“My six-year-old wonders why grandma and grandpa aren’t coming to visit, and we explain to him that there is a new 'special cold' going around that can be serious for some people,” Dr. Weis said. “We tell him that we’re all staying away from each other at the moment to try and keep everyone safe.”

What else can we say to our kids? Dr. Weis answers our questions.

Q: How much detail should parents give their kids about the coronavirus?

The goal is to provide enough detail so they understand the situation and know how to stay safe, but not cause them fear, confusion, or anxiety.

Try to reframe the conversation and simplify the details. Children don’t need to know the number of positive cases or deaths.

Focus on the positives like what we can do to prevent the spread of the virus and the stories about companies producing face masks and hand sanitizer, as well as the social media movements that people are taking part in.

Kids should have a basic understanding of what's going on but not have the full burden of the situation placed on their shoulders.

Q: How often should parents check in with their kids about the coronavirus?

Parents should check in regularly to ensure their kids know the facts and don't get caught up in rumors.

Nowadays, kids have more opportunities to be exposed to harmful topics. Social media, the internet, and chat groups make it easier for them to get information, some of which hasn’t been verified.

It's important that parents know the facts so they can translate that information into a developmentally appropriate and simplified explanation for their kids. 

Q: What advice can you give parents with kids who suffer from anxiety?

Anxious children often haven’t developed the coping skills necessary to deal with stressful situations or big changes in their lives.

For parents of anxious kids, it’s essential to practice usual de-stressing activities. Try keeping your kids busy and their minds on other things as much as possible.

Reassure them that most people who get sick with this "special cold" are going to be fine. And if someone they know gets sick and they don't have any underlying health issues, then they're probably going to be fine too.

Remind them that doctors and healthcare workers are doing everything they can and helping everyone so they don't get sick.

Q: What can parents do to keep their kids distracted?

As the weather warms up, it's going to get harder to keep your kids inside. Generally, letting them play outside is fine as long as they stay with their immediate family members and they continue to practice proper hygiene.

Otherwise, great ways to keep them busy are activity books, recreating their school environment like setting up their schedule for the day, and activity resources like GoNoodle.

Q: Is there anything else parents should know?

I think parents must realize that how they say something is just as important as what they say.

Kids are excellent at picking up on body language and recognizing your worries and anxieties through your actions. Parents need to be cognizant of the anxiety level that they show their kids and try to stay calm when discussing the coronavirus. 

My wife and I have made a concerted effort to talk to our kids about the coronavirus but not have them listening in when we're having our adult conversation so they're not hearing us expressing concern to a degree that would scare them.

Try to keep your children out of adult conversations that touch on things like the number of confirmed cases, death rates, the economy, and any “big picture forecasts.”

Q: Where can parents get more information?

The American Academy of Pediatrics has a library of very helpful articles, resources, and other information dedicated to speaking to your children about the coronavirus.

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