Parents and Kids

Ask a Doc: Talking to Young Kids About COVID-19

Adam Weis, MD, Pediatrician at Rochester Regional Health, says talking to children about the new coronavirus can be challenging for parents and guardians.

Mar. 11, 2020 3   min read

Mother talking to her child about coronavirus

Talking to young kids about COVID-19 and how they can help prevent the spread is as important as ever. Rochester Regional Health pediatrician Dr. Adam Weis says having COVID conversations can be challenging for all adults, even himself. 

“My six-year-old wonders why grandma and grandpa aren’t coming to visit, and we explain to him that there is a new special cold going around that can be serious for some people,” Dr. Weis said. “We tell him that we’re all staying away from each other at the moment to try and keep everyone safe.”

What else can we say to our young kids? Dr. Weis answers our questions.

How much detail should parents give?

The goal is to provide enough detail so they understand the situation and know how to stay safe, but not cause them fear, confusion, or anxiety.

Try to reframe the conversation and simplify the details. Children don’t need to know the number of positive cases or deaths.

Focus on the positives like what we can do to prevent the spread of the virus and the stories of companies producing face masks and hand sanitizer, as well as the social media movements that people are taking part in. Young children should have a basic understanding of what's going on but not have the full burden of the situation placed on their shoulders.

How often should parents check in with their kids?

Parents should check in regularly to ensure their kids know the facts and don't get caught up in rumors. Nowadays, kids have more opportunities to be exposed to harmful topics, and social media, the internet, and chat groups make it easier for them to get information, some of which hasn’t been verified.

It's important that parents know the facts so they can translate that information into a developmentally appropriate and simplified explanation for their kids. 

What about kids who suffer from anxiety?

Anxious children often haven’t developed the coping skills necessary to deal with stressful situations or big changes in their lives.

For parents of anxious kids, it’s essential to practice usual de-stressing activities. Try keeping your kids busy and their minds on other things as much as possible. 

Remind them that doctors and healthcare workers are doing everything they can and helping everyone so they don't get sick.

How to keep kids busy

Since the weather has warmed up, it's become harder to keep kids inside. Generally, letting them play outside is fine as long as they stay with their immediate family members and they continue to practice proper hygiene.

Other great ways to keep them busy include:

  • activity books
  • setting up a schedule for the day
  • activity resources like GoNoodle
  • letting them help with cooking
  • arts and crafts
  • picnic in the garden
  • zoom with family and friends

Anything else parents should know?

Parents must realize that how they say something is just as important as what they say.

Kids are excellent at picking up on body language and recognizing your worries and anxieties through your actions. Parents need to be cognizant of the anxiety level that they show their kids and try to stay calm when discussing the coronavirus. 

My wife and I have made a concerted effort to talk to our kids about the coronavirus but not have them listening in when we're having our adult conversation so they're not hearing us expressing concern to a degree that would scare them.

Avoid letting your young children be present during adult conversations that touch on things like the number of confirmed cases, death rates, the economy, and any “big picture forecasts.”

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