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Kids Asking About the Coronavirus? Here’s How to Handle It.

by David Engle | Mar 18, 2020 | 4 min read

It’s not often that we experience anything quite like the COVID-19 coronavirus global pandemic. Yet here we are, in the throes of a worldwide crisis that threatens to infect hundreds of thousands (if not more). You can’t turn on the TV or go online without being bombarded by coronavirus headlines. And understandably so…after all, most of the planet has never lived through an ordeal of this magnitude. Given the situation, and our response to it (panicked trips to the supermarket, vigorous hand washing every two minutes, squirting hand sanitizer like there’s no tomorrow), kids are noticing and wondering what exactly is going on.

At this stage, most children probably have at least some idea of what the coronavirus is, or they’ve at least heard the term. But many kids, especially young children, probably have no concept of how serious this situation is. Which leads to yet another challenge during these already-stressful times: how do I explain the coronavirus to children? We have some tips to help.

Remain Calm
As a parent, you already know that kids take their cues from you. So if you’re showing panic about the situation, your children will as well. And it’s so easy to feel panicked right now…people are worried about getting sick, losing jobs, paying bills, an economy that’s tanking. But part of being an adult is rising above all of the negativity and maintaining a solid foundation of leadership and guidance. A huge part of that is remaining calm. Be the voice of reason, the calm, soothing, reassuring presence kids need when we’re all dealing with a difficult situation. Once you’ve established that sense of being calm, cool, and collected, dealing with everything else will become that much easier.

Always Be There
Let’s not kid ourselves…these are strange times. If you don’t already homeschool your children, you’re probably now faced with that reality. You’re most likely working at home or trying to teach as you read this. You’re busy and have plenty on your mind, but it’s so important to simply be there for your kids. Not just physically–you’ve already got that covered. But mentally and spiritually. If your child needs to talk or has questions, don’t brush them off or talk to them while you have one eye on your phone or computer screen. Stop what you’re doing, invite them to sit down with you, look them in the eye, and just be there for them. To children, that’s the most reassuring thing you can do.

Answer Honestly, But Age-Appropriately
If your high schooler asks you what the fatality rate of COVID-19 is, you’re not going to be taken very seriously if you respond with something like, “Well, sometimes mommies and daddies and grandmoms and grandpops get sick, and…” Nor does it make much sense if your second-grader asks about coronavirus and your response is along the lines of, “Well, son, whenever someone sneezes, microdroplets containing the virus fill the air, which can then be inhaled or ingested, thereby starting an incubation period within the lungs.” That’s just not going to cut it.

Be honest, but speak to their age level. If teenagers are curious about this virus, talk to them as you would an adult…but stick to the facts. Injecting your opinion on the matter may not be productive. Especially if your opinion falls somewhere in the “we’re all going to die” category. Go with the facts–but still be reassuring as a parent. For younger kids, also be honest, but in a way they’ll understand. “Yes, this virus is serious, but if we keep washing our hands, cough into our sleeves, stay away from others who are sick, and keep your hands away from your face, people will start feeling better soon.”

Keep Them Away from Social Media
Easier said than done, of course. And maybe even impossible with older kids. But social media, and sometimes even the more conventional TV news, stirs up dangerous rumors and tends to incite panic. That’s the last thing we all need at the moment. If it’s possible to shield kids from all the negativity and rumor-mongering and flat-out inaccurate information, you should do so. As a parent, you can take all of the news in and then filter out the nonsense when passing it along to your kids. It’s not easy, considering most children have instant access to WiFi, but do your best to keep them away from the sources of misinformation.

Stress Good Hygiene
As a parent, you’ve probably always considered this a priority. But now, more than ever, it’s critical for kids to get into good personal hygiene habits. If they’re touching things out in public, they should wash their hands or use hand sanitizer. When they go to the bathroom, they should wash their hands immediately after. When they’re getting ready to eat, they should wash their hands. If they sneeze or cough, they should…you get the idea. The best way to contain this nasty virus is to consistently practice these habits (and stay away from those who are sick). You’ve seen them a million times in the past month, but here they are once more:

  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Dry with a clean towel.
  • If soap and water aren’t readily available, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol base). Wet hands and rub in until dry.
  • Cough or sneeze into the crook of your arm, or into a tissue.
  • Maintain at least six feet distance from others.
  • Stay as far away from sick people as possible.
  • Stay home unless it’s necessary to go out.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces often.
  • Avoid handshakes, hugs, or high-fives. Elbow-bump instead. Just make it look better than Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden did.

Yes, these are weird and difficult times…uncharted territory for most of us, really. We’re all kind of winging it to a degree, but even though we’re unsure of many things ourselves, we must be there for our children. They’re looking to us for guidance, stability, and information, so it’s our responsibility as adults and parents to provide our kids with all of that and more. Communication and honesty are key, now so more than ever. Your children will have questions, so give them the answers and support they need.

Some other great resources to help you during this stressful time:

David Engle
Hello, and thanks for reading! I’m David Engle--dad, husband, sports fan, and writer/editor. As a father for the last 18 years (father of two for the last 14), I consider myself to be pretty well-versed in all things related to education, childhood, and parenting, and I'm thankful for the opportunity to share some insights and knowledge with fellow parents. I have been a professional writer and editor for a quarter of a century (it pains me to admit that) and have been writing in the educational space for a number of those years. I reside in southern New Jersey with my wife, two kids, two dogs, and three cats. Never a dull moment.
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