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Conversations with Kids about COVID-19

Mar 24, 2020

Written by Sarah Anderson 

This post was written to contribute to the topic of Motherhood and Real Talk for the What Lola Likes blog by Sarah Anderson. All facts, opinions, and professional tips are Sarah’s.


Since information about COVID-19 is constantly changing, please know that some of your conversations may need to change, as more information is known of the novel virus.  It is always important to be truthful and honest with your children in a developmentally appropriate way.   

As COVID-19 continues to spread across our country many of us are experiencing fear of the unknown.  We don’t know what is to come and it can be difficult to explain this uncertainty to a child. Many children don’t understand why they can’t go to school, birthday parties, or hangout with friends. Important things to consider before and when conversing with your child about COVID-19.

General Considerations 

  1. Remain calm and reassuring
  2. Let your child know that you are always available to listen
  3. Provide honest and accurate information
  4. Pay attention to how much access your child has to the news and social media 
  5. Listen closely to what your child is saying/repeating and respond accordingly 
  6. Educate your child on the importance of good hand hygiene 

Simple Conversations/Tips

Possible Sample Script:  “The coronavirus is similar to the flu, but a little different.  While you and I may not get very sick from it, it can make other people very sick like Nana and Papa.  But, Nana and Papa are staying at home just like us so that they stay safe and healthy. It is really important for us to wash our hands often to stay safe and healthy.  Right now, it is okay for us to do walks around our neighborhood because there is so much outdoor space.  It is easier for the virus to spread in places like movie theaters and restaurants, which is why we are not going to those places right now.  It will not always be like this, and eventually you will be able to go see your friends.  Right now, Mommy doesn’t know how long these changes will last, but let’s look at these changes as an adventure!  Should we plan out our adventure for the week?”

It is difficult to know what kind of questions your kiddos are asking, but I hope that the sample script gives you some ideas on how to handle questions your children may ask. 

For all you parents out there with kiddos that love superheroes-you could compare your child to a superhero.  You could say, “By staying home you are protecting others…just like a superhero!” 

Remind them that it is okay to feel scared.  If they are feeling worried, nervous or scared, let them know they can always come to you with questions and/or comfort.  Consider using the phrase, “It is okay to be scared when so many things are changing”.  Offer them reassurance that they are safe and loved.  You can discuss all of the really great things about being on break from school or daycare.  

Less is more.  If your child seems content and does not seem negatively impacted by the disruption there is no need to have an in-depth conversation about the coronavirus. With that said, it is important to educate our children on the importance of regular hand washing, especially during this time.  It is also important to check-in with your kids every now and then, even if they seem fine.  You could interweave this check-in during bedtime.  Examples- “Mommy wants to know how you are doing.”/ “How was your day today?”/ “I hope you know how much mommy loves you, and I am always here for you.”  These are unassuming ways to check-in and see if there is anything on your child’s mind that they have not brought up. 

I have a colleague who has a daughter that is nine, and she was telling me that her daughter often repeats information that she hears from other people.  She told that me that the other day she heard her daughter saying, “I don’t know why everyone is so worried, this virus is basically the flu”.  If you hear your child talking about the virus, converse with them about it.  Refrain from telling them they are wrong, and instead ask them questions and find a way to share what you know.  The most important thing during this time is to decrease our children’s anxiety by helping them to feel safe.  

The Importance of Routine

Develop a routine to create a sense of ‘normalcy’.  Children thrive on routine.  If you and your family are not routine people that is completely okay!  Maybe you implement just a few routine activities during your day to help your child stay positive about all the constant changing.  This  could include activities such as going around the breakfast table and sharing two things you are grateful for, or short mindful walks around your house or neighborhood.  As an occupational therapist, I specialize in helping people engage in the activities they love regardless of the challenges they may face.  I think right now we are all consumed by the ‘occupation’ of worry.  We are either forgetting to engage in the activities that once brought us peace, or we are experiencing something called occupational disruption (a temporary disturbance to a person’s typical occupational performance/activities).  Finding new/different occupations for our children to do during this time is crucial for their overall wellness.  

We are all doing our best to create a sense of normalcy during these ever-changing times.  We will get through this together.  

With Love,

Dr. A

If you have any questions on this topic, please do not hesitate to reach out.  All information shared in this post is meant for educational purposes.

DR. SARAH ANDERSON

Dr. Sarah Anderson is a pediatric & mental health occupational therapist, faculty member at Midwestern University, and mother.  She has extensive experience working with children and their families in the areas of attachment, emotional literacy, emotional regulation, self-regulation, and stress-management.  Dr. Anderson, OTD, presents on the topics of emotional regulation and self-regulation in relation to childhood trauma locally as well as nationally.  

VISIT HER INSTAGRAM.