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How Parents Can Talk With Their Kids About Coronavirus

Kids get a tremen­dous amount of infor­ma­tion from each oth­er at school. They also see things online that we often don’t know about. So one night at din­ner last week, I real­ized it was time to ask my sons what they knew about coronavirus.

I have a 5 per­cent chance of dying from coro­n­avirus, Mom,” my 8‑year-old said.

Wow bud­dy,” I said, that sounds pret­ty scary.” I asked him where he had learned that.

At school. I’ve been talk­ing with my friends.” That’s exact­ly how this works with chil­dren. If we don’t give them good infor­ma­tion, they will fill in what they don’t know with updates from their friends.

I took that chance to explain to my kids how well chil­dren are doing in this epi­dem­ic, espe­cial­ly healthy kids. So, what is your chance of dying of coro­n­avirus?” I asked them.

Zero per­cent!” My boys said, as they made their hands into zeros. And because I know that kids learn bet­ter with rein­force­ment, I made them repeat it a few times that night and again the next day.

How can par­ents approach con­ver­sa­tions with their kids about coronavirus?

Par­ents have a way of giv­ing speech­es when they are wor­ried. But in a scary sit­u­a­tion, kids do bet­ter if we don’t over-explain things to them. They don’t need to know every­thing we’ve seen on the news and every sto­ry we’ve heard. Instead, it helps to focus on meet­ing them where they are. Here’s how to get start­ed talk­ing with your child about coro­n­avirus (COVID-19):

  1. Start by ask­ing them what they’ve heard about coro­n­avirus. Ask them what they’ve heard at school, or what their friends are say­ing. Ask them what they’ve seen online. Kids open up if you can lis­ten with qui­et atten­tion. Try not to react right away, because kids can eas­i­ly feel crit­i­cized and shut down.
  2. Thank them for shar­ing what they know with you. Point out some­thing they said that is cor­rect. Tell them how great you think it is that they are pay­ing atten­tion to this impor­tant cur­rent event. With my son, I said, You know, you are right that 5 per­cent of peo­ple with cer­tain dis­eases have died from coro­n­avirus. You’ve real­ly been pay­ing attention.”
  3. Then share with them cor­rect infor­ma­tion in place of any mis­in­for­ma­tion they’ve heard. With my son, I then point­ed out that the 5 per­cent he’d heard about was not in kids. As of the date of this writ­ing, zero chil­dren under the age of nine years old have died. I told him that the chance in his age group was zero percent.
  4. Ask them what spe­cif­ic ques­tions they have. You might be sur­prised. Some kids tell us they are wor­ried about grand­par­ents they love. Oth­ers want to know what it will mean for the birth­day par­ty they’ve been invit­ed to on the weekend.
  5. Don’t hide what you are feel­ing. Our kids can always detect when we are putting on a front for them. Try some­thing like, I feel wor­ried about this, but I also know that we have a good doc­tor we can call and that smart peo­ple are work­ing hard to keep us all safe.” We can be authen­tic about our wor­ry and still give a reas­sur­ing mes­sage to our kids.
  6. Be hon­est about what you know and what you don’t know. If you need to know more, check the CDC web­site which has up to date accu­rate infor­ma­tion. Try, I don’t know the answer to that ques­tion, but I’ll see if I can find an answer for you.”
  7. Remind them that you have access to great health­care to help keep your fam­i­ly healthy.
  8. Focus on what they can do and give them a sense of pur­pose. Every­one feels a lit­tle bet­ter if they know some­thing they can do, and it helps even more if they find mean­ing in what they do. Explain to kids that we can all sup­port each oth­er as a com­mu­ni­ty. While in gen­er­al coro­n­avirus (COVID-19) has been a mild ill­ness in chil­dren, the main issue is the way kids could spread it to oth­er peo­ple who are at high­er risk. We can help our friends and neigh­bors by work­ing hard not to spread the virus. We can wash our hands, cough into our elbows with a tight seal and stay home if we are sick.
  9. End the con­ver­sa­tion with an open invi­ta­tion to keep talk­ing with you. And remem­ber to check in with your kids every cou­ple of days to see how their under­stand­ing or wor­ries have changed. For instance, today my kids start­ed ask­ing whether they were going to close school.

As always, call your child’s doc­tor if you are con­cerned that you are see­ing seri­ous symp­toms in your child.

Addi­tion­al Resources: 

Coro­n­avirus (COVID-19) is a rapid­ly evolv­ing glob­al health sit­u­a­tion. For the lat­est infor­ma­tion, visit: