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How to Talk to Your Kids About COVID-19 in a CAREing Way

Updated: Apr 15

As families experience shifts in their daily lives due to COVID-19 and social distancing, it is natural that kids may have questions about the virus itself and the changes in their lives. This is such an unprecedented and confusing time that can be difficult for adults to understand as well, and it can be challenging to know how to explain these changes to kids. 


Below is a list of suggestions for talking to your children about COVID-19. 


C - Convey Calmly: 

When approaching conversations about COVID-19 with your kids it can help to speak calmly. Kids pick up on cues from their caretakers, and so modeling a calm and open approach can decrease fear and increase a sense of comfort and security. Creating a sense of calm within the household may also help. This might look like building a new routine, and limiting the amount of time spent talking about COVID-19 and the impact of the pandemic, watching the news, and looking at social media. It may also be helpful to watch the news with older kids so that you are there to explain any information they might see. Fostering a calm and supportive atmosphere will hopefully allow your child to feel comfortable asking questions and expressing their own fears throughout this difficult time. From there, parents can validate children’s thoughts and feelings, letting them know their questions are important.


A - Assess and Answer Accurately:  

Assess what your child already knows about COVID-19 by asking questions about what they’ve heard. This will give you an opportunity to correct any misinformation they may have that has been anxiety provoking, as well as gauge their level of interest in the topic. From here you can follow your child’s lead, finding out if they have any questions that have been on their mind, or if they are genuinely uninterested or unconcerned. If they don’t have a lot of questions it is okay, and you don’t have to press them more to talk about it. From asking questions and creating a calm environment they’ll know you’re there if they have questions later. If they do have questions try to answer as accurately as they can while using terms and concepts geared to their age level. NASP explains that for early elementary school kids this will look like providing simple and brief information, with a focus on reassurance. Older elementary through middle school kids may have heard more information from others, and you can help them in separating out the facts. For older middle school and high school students you can look up resources together, and engage them in decisions for planning the family’s new schedule and routine.  


R - Reassure Realistically:

It is important to address your kids’ fears in a way that is both reassuring and comforting, while maintaining honesty, and avoiding making unrealistic promises. This might include explaining to kids the way social distancing works, and how everyone is working to stop the spread of the virus, reminding them that doctors are working hard to keep everyone safe, and that research is being done on ways to cure it. You can additionally express that most people usually  just feel like they have a cold or the flu, and that kids aren’t likely to get very sick from the virus. It is normal for kids to be worried about their friends and family as well, and so scheduling time for them to see members of the family who don’t live at home through video chat, or talking over the phone can help be reassured as well. You can continue to validate your child’s fears while passing on realistic and reassuring information. 


E - Explain and Ease Anxiety

Let them know it’s normal to feel stressed out and scared. You can explain procedures for practical things kids can control. This includes good hygiene (washing hands for 20 second, or two rounds of “Happy Birthday,” and coughing or sneezing into a tissue or the crook of your elbow), maintaining a regular schedule including good sleep practices, and following social distancing guidelines. Kids may also be comforted knowing ways they can help others. Starting projects to have them write letters to neighbors, friends, and family who might be alone can aid with this. You can also help ease anxiety by focusing on the positives about this new shift in routine, such as spending more time together as a family. Building in fun activities such as going outside, playing games, or completing family art projects can help build more positive feelings. If your child is feeling particularly anxious, demonstrating and guiding deep breathing exercises. 


This is a difficult and confusing time overall. By creating a calm and caring environment, providing accurate information, and realistic reassurance, you can help in easing your child’s anxiety and increase their understanding of their changing world. 


References:

1-CDC’s Talking with children about Coronavirus Disease 2019 | CD

2-The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry’s (AACAP) Talking to Children About Coronavirus (COVID19)

3-The National Association of School Psychologists’s (NASP) Helping Children Cope With Changes Resulting From COVID-19

4-KidsHealth from Nemours’ Coronavirus (COVID-19): How to Talk to Your Child (for Parents) - Nemours



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