Our Child Life team at UMass Memorial Children’s Medical Center offers some thoughts to help you talk to kids about COVID-19. There are other resources for children available on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
Be aware of your emotions.
- This is an uncertain and confusing time for our communities, but children are looking to you for reassurance and guidance. Find a time when you’re feeling calm to discuss the coronavirus with your children.
- Be open to talking with children about the coronavirus, and reassure children that they are less likely to get this virus. Emphasize the importance of hand washing and keeping hands away from their nose, eyes and mouth.
Make every attempt to limit what kids are seeing and hearing in the media.
- Remind children that not everything they are hearing on TV and from friends is accurate. Keep an open invitation for communication.
- Remember to have adult conversations away from your children; they are always listening!
- Avoid any conversation that could promote a stigma. Any person is susceptible to the virus.
Consider the child’s developmental age when speaking about COVID-19.
- Follow their lead. Inquire about what they are seeing/hearing. Use this time to clarify misconceptions. Be honest but give only the detail that they need.
- Children are going to have different questions depending on their age group. For example, a young child may be more concerned with disruptions in their routine. While an adolescent may be concerned about getting the virus themselves. Toddlers and preschool age children may not have questions at all!
- It’s okay if you don’t know the answer to a question. Praise the child by saying, “That’s a great question. I’m not sure!” and follow up later.
- Address their fears or concerns about getting sick by talking about the important work of all the “helpers” (nurses, doctors, scientists, cleaning staff, etc.) in their community.
Kids are often more successful when they have structure.
- Make every attempt to maintain rules and routines to the best of your ability. This is tricky when schools are closed! But some structure during the day is helpful.
- Play is a way for children to learn at home. Engage kids in learning activities, such as art and crafts, cooking, music, puzzles, dress up/pretend play, nature walks, board games, and reading.
- Consider adding educational apps to electronics. Maintain consistent rules around limiting screen time.
- Keep habits around bedtime, meals and discipline consistent.
- Remind children that information is always changing, and that you will be honest with them when they need to know something.
Watch for significant changes in your child’s behavior. If you are concerned, reach out to your child’s pediatrician for assistance.