Talking to your kids about COVID-19

Jun 3, 2020


Parents are an extremely important source of support for their children, especially during situations like the one we currently find ourselves in with COVID-19.

Childhood is filled with so much exploration and so many feelings. At all ages, children allow us to have the privilege of living and looking at the world through their lens. They are resilient and adaptive when provided with an environment of understanding, patience and—most importantly—love. A sense of security is what they look for as they move through childhood.

This is why the role of a parent is quite significant in a child’s life. Children look to their parents to make sense of things around them, to give them a sense of security and to help them feel in control. They look to their parents for cues on their responses to situations in order to gain information on how to interpret situations and experiences.

With the current coronavirus pandemic, parents have the additional task of explaining change in the world. This change includes explaining coronavirus, social distancing and stay-home mandates, while using age-appropriate language.

Each of these factors is important to help them understand safety. When discussing how to take care of themselves and protect others from the virus, using face masks and proper handwashing should be practiced during the discussion.

When practicing how to wear a mask and wash hands, parents should demonstrate. Remember, attitude is important during this role modeling time. The attitude you have when wearing a mask and washing your hands will be observed by your child.

When explaining and demonstrating practices to children, their level of understanding will depend on their developmental stage and their age. This means that you may be explaining and practicing with older children or singing and dancing as you explain with younger children. Some suggestions for helping younger children to practice their hands is by helping them to engage in the behavior of hand washing by making it fun for them. Pick a fun song that you can sing while practicing the handwashing steps.

For example, most people sing the “happy birthday” song twice during handwashing because it lasts at least 20 seconds—the recommended time to wet your hands, lather, scrub, rinse, and dry as recommended by CDC. You can also select any fun song that will help your child look forward to engaging in the practice. If song is not enough, create a dance as you are walking to wash your hands with your child.

Remember to have patience since children will need constant practice and reminders. Take opportunities to practice handwashing before eating, after playing outside, after coughing, sneezing or blowing their nose, after using the bathroom, or touching pets. This is your chance as a parent to lead by example and be the role model that they need to practice safety during this pandemic.

Parenting is a journey within itself, requiring so much mental and physical energy already. Parenting in a pandemic—a time of rapid change in the world with continual information flowing in about coronavirus that requires us to be adaptive, cope and adjust our mindset to continual change—has the potential to be mentally and physically exhausting.

Parents: it is certainly recognized that in addition to working on this process of adaptation for yourselves, you also must do this for your children to help them navigate the changes in the world. For this and all you do, a tremendous thank you for being present and caring for your children!