Talking to Your Kids about COVID-19 and Social Distancing

March 27, 2020

As the days add up and turn into weeks of being “trapped” in the house, your kids are likely starting to feel the effects of social distancing. Maybe they’ve missed out on a birthday party they’ve been planning for months. Or, especially for younger kids, something as seemingly trivial as missing their weekly opportunity to participate in their class’s show and tell is dragging them down.

Likely, they’re starting to realize that we could be in this for longer than expected. And, perhaps they’re secretly worried that they’re going to get sick or their friends are going to get sick. Or, worse, they’re harboring fears that you are going to get sick.

As a parent, what do you say? How do soothe nerves without denying the reality they’re witnessing first hand?

There is no handbook for this scenario and many of us are struggling to find the words to impart the information while providing reassurance. By now you’ve, no doubt, had numerous conversations with your kids about COVID-19. State-wide school closings and virtual learning requirements necessitate such conversations. But, whether you’ve had two conversations or twenty, the key to keeping your kids feeling as secure as possible is regularly checking in about any questions or worries they might have.

When it comes to the “how” of checking in, it depends on your child’s age.

For younger kids, start by assessing what they already know and what, specifically, they want to know. One of the biggest mistakes parents make when having hard conversations with young kids is providing information they aren’t looking for. Open a dialogue and ask some questions.

“Hey, we’ve been cooped up in the house for a couple weeks now. How are you feeling? Do you understand why we’re staying home? Do you have any questions?”

That will guide you in the direction you take during the conversation. From there, answer any questions honestly, but age-appropriately. For young kids, what they are primarily concerned with is your safety. Reassure them that you are safe and doctors are working to ensure everyone stays safe.

For older kids, prepare for some hard questions about death. Older kids are more aware of what’s happening, more able to grasp the severity of the situation, and far more acutely aware of the possibilities of losing someone they love to this illness. For this age group, focus on the precautions everyone is taking, assure them that all of the sacrifices we are making are helping to “flatten the curve,” and reiterate what they can do to help keep themselves safe.

For all kids, here are some additional resources to help you in your mission:

  • BrainPOP: Straightforward and fun, this educational platform engages your children while offering critical information. Even better? They toss in some activities designed to help you keep the conversation going.
  • NPR: NPR presents answers to the most commonly asked questions about Coronovirus in a format kids can relate to: graphic novels.
  • StoryBots: Turn the question of “why do I have to wash my hands?” over to these engaging animations.
  • PBS ForKids: From Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood to Super Why!, PBS has compiled a list of episodes that discuss germs and hygiene.

Finally, as always, if your kids seem unable to function through their feelings, find a trusted professional for them to talk to.

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