Discussing Coronavirus with Your Kids

Coronavirus (COVID-19) is being discussed on the news, on social media, and at school. Dr. Linda Nicolotti, a pediatric psychologist with Brenner Children’s, chats with BestHealth about how to have informative and age-appropriate discussions with children about coronavirus. .


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Episode Highlights

How can we as parents/guardians start the conversation?
Most children at this point have heard about COVID-19 and have questions or thoughts about it. Keep lines of communication open and start by asking them what they’ve heard from friends, on social media, on the news. To help them feel more safe, find out what their concerns are, present facts and clear up any misconceptions to make sure they have accurate information. 

What are some of these facts?
As of now, children appear less likely to get COVID-19, have more mild cases, and are symptomatic for only a couple days if they do get it. Parents/guardians, doctors, schools, and the government are helping keep them safe. Also share ways that they can stay safe like regular hand hygiene including washing hands for 20 seconds and using hand sanitizer, let you know if they are getting sick, and social distancing. For the latest information, visit wakehealth.edu/Coronavirus.

Does age matter when discussing COVID-19?
Lots of families have children of different ages and developmental levels, so it’s important to take that into consideration, as well as their personality. For younger kids it’s important to give concise information of what they need to know, simple and direct. Older kids will probably want more detail. A good rule of thumb is if they are asking a question, it’s appropriate to answer honestly when able. Try to avoid presenting too much information at once as that may overwhelm children. 

How do we manage our kids’ stress and anxiety when we are also feeling stressed and anxious?
When talking with your children, stick to the facts. For kids that tend to be more anxious, listen to their feelings and validate their feelings but clear up any misconceptions. Kids with anxiety tend to focus on the negative thoughts they are having and those thoughts come automatically. Helping them find other things to focus on and distractions and limiting exposure for those children is important.
It’s best if parents can also be mindful of their own behaviors. Sometimes we think they aren’t listening or out of earshot, but be mindful of that and what message our conversations and behavior may be portraying to children. 

What are some resources to help children with this anxiety?
For mild or moderate cases, try to get your kids to talk through their thought process with you and what they are worried about. That gives you information you need to talk about fact vs fiction. That distinction is important to help them think rationally and about what is more likely to happen. Focus on showing them how they can stay safe and how they can help control that for themselves like washing hands after they eat or being in public. For parents who are wondering if they need more professional services or how can they tell if professional help is appropriate, look at changes in their mood, have they had trouble sleeping, loss of appetite, having less fun, problems focusing on work, distracted. If those issues exist, it’s probably a good time to reach out to your primary care doctor and to connect them with professional services to help them.

How often should we talk about COVID-19 with our children?
The news is rapidly changing so touching base with older kids every few days is good to make sure they are sticking with the facts. For younger kids, it may be best to stick with need to know information, but still continue to just check in with them. It’s probably not a good idea to make this dinner conversation and to make sure to keep those conversations lighter.