Expert Advice For Explaining Coronavirus To Your Kids When Everyone Else Is Panicking
At this point, it is nearly impossible to prevent kids from learning about coronavirus. It's a hot topic and concerns of spread are rampant. When the inevitable happens and they come to you with questions, you'll want to know how to explain coronavirus to your kids when all around them, adults are panicking.
"Remember that your kids take their cues from you. If you are obsessively worried about the coronavirus and talking about it, your kids will likely have anxiety about it, too," Barbara Nosal, PhD, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and chief clinical officer at Newport Academy tells Romper. "Managing your own fears and concerns apart from them is important, as security is a primary need for children."
Experts agree that there are several actionable steps parents can take to help kids stay calm despite growing concerns about the spread of the virus. In addition to managing your own anxiety, arming kids with age-appropriate facts, answering their questions, sticking to a routine as much as possible, and limiting media exposure are among the top suggestions from experts.
With plenty of guidance from level-headed parents and a whole lot of antibacterial soap, it is completely possible to keep kids calm despite coronavirus panic.
Give Kids The Actual Facts About Coronavirus
Whether they hear about the dangers of the virus from teachers, classmates, relatives, or on the news, kids may begin to form their own opinions about the threat of coronavirus. That's why it's important to arm them with the facts about what the virus is and what it does.
"Parents should stay ahead of the rumors, and get their information from a trusted source like the CDC and not social media," Nosal says. "And advise kids and teens to practice good hygiene and healthy practices including thoroughly and frequently washing hands; avoiding touching one’s eyes, nose and mouth; getting a good’s night sleep; and eating healthy in order to prevent contracting the virus."
Keep It Age-Appropriate When Discussing Coronavirus With Your Kids
"Give children information that is truthful and appropriate for the age and developmental level of the child," parenting expert Reena B. Patel, educational psychologist and behavior analyst, tells Romper.
For younger kids, she recommends the following phrasing to explain what the coronavirus is: "This virus or bug has made a lot of people sick. Scientists and doctors think that most people will be OK, especially children, but some people might get pretty sick and go to the hospital. The doctors will take good care of them if they do."
Model Healthy Habits For Your Children When Preventing Coronavirus
Proper hygiene has been touted by multiple experts as the best way to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for preventing the spread of coronavirus include frequent hand-washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, avoiding close contact with others, and staying home when you are sick.
Patel says parents should both practice good hygiene, as well as model it for kids. She says parents should ensure that kids "wash their hands after blowing their nose, coughing, or sneezing; going to bathroom and eating." She also recommends that "if they are not near a sink to wash hands, then use hand sanitizer that has at least 60% alcohol."
Answer Your Kid's Questions About Coronavirus
"Children need to feel safe and be reassured by their parents, and depending on the age of the child, they may or may not have heard about the virus already and they may or may not have questions," psychotherapist Perri Shaw Borish, tells Romper.
Borish says parents should empathize with their children's concerns as they answer questions without feeding into their fear. "It's important to answer their questions directly and honestly and in a developmentally appropriate way," she says.
Explain Any Changes Coronavirus Is Causing To Your Family
Talk with your kids about what you're doing to keep your entire family safe. That may mean explaining why you aren't visiting elderly grandparents as often since they're at a higher risk for infection, or staying home from work or school if there is an outbreak in your area.
Where this gets tricky is when you have to explain that something they have been looking forward to must be cancelled — like a trip to Disney World or overseas. Dr. Sanam Hafeez, Psy.D., a neuropsychologist in New York City, tells Romper that parents must weigh the risk of attending these events. "If you decide that it's not [worth the risk], you must explain it to your children in language that is age-appropriate and 'reward' them in another way for plans that are canceled for health reasons," she says.
Reassure Them That Coronavirus Is Being Taken Care Of By Scientists & Public Health Officials
"If children express concern, reassure them that our government, scientists, and physicians are doing everything they can to protect us," Dr. Hafeez tells Romper.
Just as many adults are concerned about the spread of coronavirus and lean on public health officials for reassurance, kids will look to their parents for comfort when talking about the outbreak. "If your child is very worried about the coronavirus, it could be beneficial to let them know that young people are at lower risk of getting sick from the virus and also that the best prevention technique is proper hand hygiene," Nosal says.
Show Your Kids That You're Prepared For A Coronavirus Quarantine
"As a parent, you can 'quietly' stock up on two weeks' supplies of food and medications just in case you live in an area where there is a quarantine," Dr. Hafeez says. "If you can, do it when your kids are in school so they don't get nervous. If they do happen to express concern about being quarantined, then you can tell them you are fully prepared."
Limit Your Kid's Media Exposure To News About Coronavirus
It may feel natural to have your television set tuned in to coronavirus updates 24/7, but if your kids are at home, experts agree you should limit their exposure to media reports.
"Remember, children exposed to an abundance of new coverage can increase their fear and anxiety," Patel tells Romper. "Research shows a correlation between what children see in the media and their level of fear."
To stay up-to-date on the latest coronavirus news, try reading updates on your phone or computer instead of relying on television reports that kids could see or hear.
Keep Your Kid's Routine As Normal As Possible During The Coronavirus Outbreak
As much as possible, keep your kids in a daily routine to provide a sense of normalcy despite the evolving outbreak. "Children can sense your fears, so don’t transfer that. Stay calm and focus on maintaining a routine," Patel tells Romper. "What are the plans for today, the here and now."
Your child's school may make changes to their day-to-day activities, so it is important to discuss these changes with your kids, too. "Keep children prepared for new school routine changes," Patel says. "Virtual learning, extra hand washing throughout the day, no large assemblies etc."
Manage Your Own Emotions About Coronavirus In Front Of Your Kids
"From a psychological standpoint, children mimic their parent's emotional reactions," Dr. Hafeez tells Romper. "If you have to 'panic,' do it internally and out of earshot of your children."
This might mean taking frequent media breaks to minimize your exposure to growing concerns, or taking small breaks from your kids to give yourself a moment alone.
"While it is normal to feel anxious, try your best not to project all kinds of anxiety onto your children." Borish says. "Perhaps you take some deep breaths — long inhales and exhales to calm the central nervous system — and remind yourself that you don't have to know all the answers. Your kids don't need you to have all the answers."
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all of Romper’s parents + coronavirus coverage here, and Bustle’s constantly updated, general “what to know about coronavirus” here.
Dr. Sanam Hafeez, PsyD., a neuropsychologist in New York City, faculty member at Columbia University
Parenting expert, guidance counselor, licensed educational psychologist, and board-certified behavior analyst Reena B. Patel, LEP, BCBA
Barbara Nosal, PhD, LMFT, LADC, chief clinical officer at Newport Academy
Psychotherapist Perri Shaw Borish, MSS, LCSW, Founder of Whole Heart Maternal Mental Health