With all of the information going around about COVID-19, caused by the coronavirus, many parents and caregivers may be wondering how to talk to children about this virus.
To encourage calmness, Bingham Healthcare’s Travis Adams, PhD, clinical psychologist, shares some reassuring ways to speak to children and teenagers about COVID-19.
“Children and teenagers need adults’ love and attention always, but especially during difficult times,” Dr. Adams says. “Give them this extra time and attention. Have a rational conversation with your children or grandchildren about the coronavirus.”
But how? Nowadays, they’re coming home from school, or they may be on a temporary break from school and sports activities, asking about COVID-19. They may have even overheard adults talking about the virus, or through social media and the TV. And, they may have even seen people wearing facemasks.
“First of all, parents don’t need to avoid talking about the virus, especially with their school-age child,” Dr. Adams says. “In fact, not talking about it may cause children to worry more, because they may get misinformation from friends or other sources. This is your opportunity to set an appropriate emotional tone that you know your child will respond to. Plus, you can provide them with fact-based information that is more reassuring than what they’re getting from other sources.”
What are the appropriate ages to talk to kids about this virus? Dr. Adams suggests that parents would typically want to intentionally talk with children who are school-age (around 4-5 years old and older).
Let your children ask questions
Instead of volunteering information at first, you may simply begin by asking your child what they know about the virus or asking them what questions they might have. Answer as honestly and clearly as possible, and don’t worry if you don’t have all of the answers. You can always research them.
“Starting the conversation by asking what they know or what questions they might have, will help you understand how they’re feeling and what they’ve heard about COVID-19," Dr. Adams says. “Your primary goal is to help understand and to do your best to alleviate any misconceptions or unrealistic fears they might have.”
It’s helpful for parents to reassure their child(ren) about how rare the coronavirus actually is (the flu is much more common) and that kids actually seem to have milder symptoms. Also let your children know that older adults, such as grandparents, know what to do and can take care of themselves. Let your children know that health experts around the globe—doctors, nurses, and teachers—are aware of the COVID-19 and they’re providing information as they can on a daily basis.
When talking in the presence of your children, please do your best to manage your own frustration, stress, and anxiety levels. If you’re stressed, your kids will pick up on that and it may negatively impact them. You want to create a sense of calm for them. Also, choose your words carefully, using a positive tone. For example, if you’re in the grocery store and your child seems scared that a few shelves are empty, instead of saying We were too late!, try saying, That’s okay, we have everything we need and the grocery store will restock the shelves soon.
The Cleveland Clinic offers these 7 Tips on How to Practive Patience.
“Also, this is a good time to teach your children and teenagers a few important lessons,” Dr. Adams says. “Talk to them about compassion and sharing, as well as letting them know there are healthy ways to deal with any anxiety, nervousness, and stress.”
Talk about the actions you’re taking to stay safe
“Kids feel stronger, more confident, and have less anxiety when they know what to do to keep themselves safe,” Dr. Adams says.
For instance, you can tell them that the coronavirus is transmitted mostly by coughing and touching surfaces. Remind them that they are taking care of themselves by washing their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds (or the length of two “Happy Birthday” songs or the chorus to a favorite song) when they come in from outside, before they eat, and after blowing their nose, coughing, sneezing, or using the bathroom.
Try to keep a routine at home
It can be hard with trips and events being cancelled and schools being closed, but it’s important to try to maintain some sort of schedule. Routine makes most people, especially children, feel safe. Try to keep your normal sleep and meal times and focus on activities that make your kids feel happy—like reading a book, watching a favorite TV show or movie, or playing board games.
“These types of activities are an essential part of keeping kids happy and healthy,” Dr. Adams says. “While this is a really disruptive and challenging time, this is an opportunity to connect with your children through fun activities and mealtimes that you might not otherwise have.”
With everything moving at the speed of light, now is a time for families to take a step back, to take a deep breath, and regroup. Do your best to find the positives in everything you do throughout this challenging period of time, which will pass.
“To end the conversation with your children, tell them that you will continue to have conversations with them about coronavirus as you learn more,” Dr. Adams says. “You can simply say, ‘This is all I know for now, but when mom and dad learn more, we’ll be sure to tell you.’ And be sure to tell them if they have any more questions to please ask you at any time.”
Do's and Don'ts during this unique time
- Do: If your children are on break from school, please keep them at home as much as possible.
- Do: Limit their access to media. Media outlets gain income by attracting viewers. Often the narrative from news outlets will instill more fear in children. You need to filter the presentation of information through you, especially for young children.
- Don’t pay attention to what other parents are doing: If your teen complains about wanting to go outside and hang out with their friends, please keep them indoors and tell them this is just a temporary situation for their safety.
- Do: Plan activities to keep your children busy. It’s unrealistic to expect them to entertain themselves all the time.
- Do: Shop responsibly. Perhaps this is a time to cook new recipes you’ve always wanted to try, but never had the time.
About Travis R. Adams, PhD, ABPP
Dr. Adams is a Harvard-trained, licensed, and board-certified clinical psychologist who provides continuing and comprehensive mental and behavioral care for children, adolescents, and adults of all ages at Bingham Healthcare. As one of only three board-certified child and adolescent psychologists in the state of Idaho, he is uniquely qualified to provide comprehensive psychological care to a pediatric population. He also has extensive experience working with couples, families, and military veterans.
Dr. Adams welcomes patients in Idaho Falls and Blackfoot. To schedule an appointment in Idaho Falls, please call (208) 535-3638 and in Blackfoot: (208) 782-2991. For more information about Dr. Adams, visit www.BinghamMemorial.org/Find-a-Doctor.
For more information about all of Bingham’s mental health counselors, please visit www.BinghamMemorial.org/Mental-Health-Counselors.
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Our content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.