How to Talk to Your Child about the Coronavirus

By this point, your child has most likely heard about the virus. It’s important to talk with her about it openly and honestly without causing further alarm.
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Last Updated
April 22, 2019
posted on
March 13, 2020
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4
Minute Read

On Wednesday, the World Health Organization elevated the COVID-19 or coronavirus outbreak to a pandemic level. This means the virus is affecting more than just one or two countries, but rather it is spreading on a worldwide scale. As a result, President Trump gave an address from the Oval Office Wednesday night advising citizens to be cautious and furthering a travel ban to include Europe.

By this point, your child has most likely heard about the virus, which shows up as flu-like symptoms, respiratory issues, and fever. She might be worried, she might not be concerned about it all, she might not understand it. However, if your child is hearing about it, it is important you talk to her. Don’t just pretend like nothing is happening. 

Though you may also be fearful, this is not the time to parent out of fear. Parent out of strength by talking to your child about the virus. Be as honest and open as you can without causing further alarm. Your child is looking to you to provide strength and stability during this time.

If you’re not sure how to talk to your child about the coronavirus, Unicef recently released a list of eight suggestions to guide you as you talk to your child during this trying time. I encourage you to read the full article, but here are a few tips they provide:

1. Be truthful with your child. 

Your child is perceptive. He is listening to your conversations with your partner and your adult friends. He wants to know the truth and can probably tell when you’re lying. Find out what your child already knows or thinks about the virus, and then give him facts you know he can handle. Not sweeping numbers of how many are infected, but rather, things like, “This is what a virus is…this is how it works…this is why it’s easy to spread.”

If you’re not sure about any of those things, visit the World Health Organization website or the Centers for Disease Control website. They have excellent, up-to-date information. 

2. Empower your child by showing her how to protect herself and others. 

Regular hand washing is one of the best ways to keep your child, and your entire family, safe from the virus. Encourage your child to wash her hands as often as possible for 20 seconds—about the length of singing Happy Birthday. Other precautions you can discuss include: 

  • Staying away from people you know might have the virus or are sick.
  • Teaching your child to cough with her mouth covered. It is best if she coughs into a tissue and then throws it away, but we know that most kids don’t think ahead, so have her cough into a bent arm over her mouth.
  • Use an alcohol-based sanitizer that contains 60% or more alcohol when soap and water aren’t available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

3. Take care of yourself.

Know how you are feeling before talking to your child. Are you anxious? Nervous? Afraid? Your child will pick up on this. It’s ok to feel all of those emotions, just make sure you’re not needlessly transferring them to your child. Make sure you’re in a good place by practicing self-care, reaching out to your community for help and prayer, and doing what you know makes you feel grounded during an anxious time. By caring for yourself, you will also care for your child. 

4. Close conversations with care. 

Gauge how your child is feeling at the end of your conversation. If she is still anxious, make sure you ease her fears by telling her you are there for her and ready to listen whenever she needs to talk. Don’t dismiss her fears even if they seem ridiculous. These are uncertain times and she is probably hearing about a lot of worst-case-scenarios. Validate her concerns by listening.

Be a safe place for your child to express fears and ask questions during this time. It will not last forever, but it will continue to be present in our communities for a season. Talk to your child about how to stay safe and also reassure him. Don’t panic, but don’t ignore the situation either. Find a balanced middle ground that will keep your family safe, your child’s mind at ease and ultimately do a greater good for society.

Dr. Meg Meeker, MD

Practicing pediatrician, parent, grandparent, coach, speaker, and author. Say hello @MegMeekerMD

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