As the situation with Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) evolves, it’s difficult for us to understand all of it and it’s particularly difficult for children to grasp. Children may become frightened that they or their loved ones will get sick.
It is important to reassure children and talk to them in a calm manner. Their view of the world as a safe and predictable place is temporarily lost. How a parent or other adult reacts around the child in a situation like this can determine how quickly and completely the child recovers. Encourage children to express their feelings and thoughts. Reassure them about their safety.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has created guidance to help adults have conversations with children about COVID-19 and ways they can avoid getting and spreading the disease. Here are some tips on talking to your children:
Remain calm and reassuring. Remember that children will react to both what you say and how you say it. They will pick up cues from the conversations you have with them and with others. If they feel worried, they are worried. Don’t tell them they shouldn’t be worried. Instead, encourage them to talk about how they are feeling.
Make yourself available to listen and to talk. Be sure children know they can come to you when they have questions. Listen for underlying fears or concerns and misinformation your children might have, and keep your answers simple and direct. Carefully think about what answers you can give that will reassure your children and relieve their worries. In addition, don’t make it a one-time conversation; continue to talk with your children and answer any new questions they may have.
Pay attention to what children see or hear on television, radio or online. Consider reducing the amount of screen time focused on COVID-19 for both you and your kids. Too much information on one topic can lead to anxiety.
Provide information that is honest and accurate. Give children information that is truthful and appropriate for the age and developmental level of the child. Remind them how some stories on COVID-19 on the Internet and social media may be based on rumors and inaccurate information. Correct any incorrect information clearly, using words they understand.
Keep it simple. Remind them that officials are working hard to keep everyone safe and healthy. Here are some examples:
What is COVID-19? COVID-19 is the short name for “coronavirus disease 2019.” It is a new virus. Doctors and scientists are still learning about it. Recently, this virus has made a lot of people sick. Scientists and doctors think that most people will be okay, especially kids, but some people might get pretty sick. They are working hard to help people stay healthy.
What can I do so that I don’t get COVID-19? You can practice healthy habits to help protect against the spread of COVID-19. Cough or sneeze into a tissue or your elbow. If you sneeze or cough into a tissue, throw it in the trash right away. Keep your hands out of your mouth, nose and eyes. This will help keep germs out of your body. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Follow these five steps—wet, lather (make bubbles), scrub (rub together), rinse and dry. You can sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice. If you don’t have soap and water, have an adult help you use a special hand cleaner.
Be creative and think of fun activities that will occupy your child’s time. Keep a schedule, set appropriate limits and maintain usual rules of behavior.
You can find more information on COVID-19 safety here. For the latest information, please visit the CDC website at cdc.gov/covid19.
If you live outside the United States, health and safety tips can be found through the World Health Organization and by following your local Red Cross or Red Crescent society’s social media channels.
About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org or cruzrojaamericana.org, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.