8 tips for talking to children about coronavirus (COVID-19)

Talking to children about coronavirus may feel like an overwhelming task. These tips can help ensure they feel safe and informed.

The entire world is facing a daunting pandemic – a novel coronavirus that has transcended borders and had a huge impact on our daily lives. None of us have ever experienced a health crisis on this scale before, however for children this kind of event can fuel sadness, stress and anxiety. In fact, child protection services like Kids Help Phone are experiencing a surge in calls from children concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on their lives and others.

That’s why it’s critical when talking to children at a time like this that we help them feel protected and comforted because they have certainly heard about COVID-19 and many may have family members in quarantine or know someone who is sick. They may also be impacted economically and distressed that schools have been closed for an indefinite period of time.

mother talking to children about proper hand washing technique

Plan International has over 80 years of experience of working with children in emergencies and we’re concerned about how the coronavirus pandemic will affect the environment in which children grow and develop. 

Based on our expertise and to help parents and caregivers cope during this time, we’re providing you with tips for talking with children about coronavirus. This advice should help navigate difficult conversations and situations that may come up during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tip #1: When talking to children let them know that whatever they’re feeling is okay

Children might respond in many different ways to news of a crisis and it’s important to validate their fears and feelings. Let them know you understand why they feel this way. You can talk about your own fears too but be sure to reassure the child that they are protected and safe.

Tip #2: Allow children to ask questions

When children ask questions, they’re often seeking reassurance that they are safe, so let this guide your answers.

Encourage them to speak freely about things that are concerning them. Answer the questions honestly and let them know there are many people – scientists, doctors, emergency responders – who are doing their best to keep children and families safe at this time.

woman builds a Lego tower with toddler

Tip #3: When talking to children make them feel safe   

The COVID-19 pandemic can make children aware of their own vulnerability and trigger fears that something could happen to them or their family. In these times, children will look to adults to show signs of safety. If adults feel they are safe, then it will be easier for children to believe.

For example, you can say this: “Every time something like this happens, we learn how to stay safer. We learn how things like this happen, so we can stop it happening again. There are people who are working hard to make sure we are safe, and I trust them.”

Tip #4: Remind children of the good in the world

Crises are a time when communities come together to help each other, and it’s important for children to know this. Families, neighbors, emergency workers, charities and government authorities all have skills and resources to contribute and make a difference.  

When talking to children, remind them that people are good – even amidst all the grocery hoarding and gloomy daily news cycles. If you can, try to share good news with your children around what people are doing to help each other get through.

Tip #5: Ensure children know the facts

Talk to your children about the importance of preventing a COVID-19 infection. If they ask, help them understand the symptoms of COVID-19 and that so far, it has not affected many children at all.

Children might focus on the similarities between themselves and the people who have become sick, which will add to their anxiety. To help them feel safe, it is important to steer them towards the differences such as their age and health condition. It’s also important to remind them that everyday we learn new information about the virus and how to control it.

Young girl holds out her hand to use hand sanitizer

Tip #6: Help children help others

Ask your children what they can do to help others in your community. Encouraging them towards their own acts of kindness will help to replace feelings of helplessness with a sense of hope and the awareness they can make a difference.

Even by washing their hands, covering their coughs, or keeping their distance in public, they are doing something really important – they are helping to protect people.

Tip #7: Stick to a routine

Having a sense of purpose and routine can help both adults and children avoid feelings of stress and anxiety and make sure we feel productive, fulfilled, confident and in control.

Of course, school closures and having to work form home can make routines more complicated. You could consider putting in place set wake-up, bed and meal times; adjusting your children’s usual screen time and allowing longer, independent play sessions.

Also, setting up a ‘work from home’ station (just like their parent’s) is a fun way to encourage study if remote lessons are available from schools or childcare facilities.  

young girl concentrated in colouring

Tip #8: When talking to children, plan fun things to do

Exercise reduces stress and going outside for nice walk with your children (if possible, and while practicing social distancing) can be beneficial for everyone’s physical as well as mental state.

If you are stuck indoors, try a daily challenge, surprise or game for your children to look forward to each day. Schedule regular video chats with family and friends from school to make sure they stay connected. You can also do virtual tours of museums, theme parks and zoos.

Know that you don’t have to keep your children busy, or always learning or entertained. Boredom can be a fertile ground for creativity and discovery. There are plenty of ways to learn, and some of the best ones are the ones they discover themselves.

Plan International puts children first

Plan International is active in over 75 countries and supports thousands of disadvantaged communities through a network of nearly 10,000 staff. As an organization, we are committed to ensuring that our critical programming to advance children’s rights and equality for girls remains largely unimpacted by COVID-19. 

This pandemic will no doubt impact the lives of children, especially girls, living in poorer countries where access to clean water, healthcare, social security and internet connectivity may be limited.

Mother feeding her young child cereal

With this in mind, we’re working with teachers, parents and health care providers to identify safe strategies to provide psychosocial support to children who need it most. We are also responding to address the immediate and future impacts of COVID-19 both in the communities and refugee settings where we work. 

Children and whole communities would be affected by any stoppages in our work and we are continuously assessing how we can continue our programs and best support those who are most vulnerable in low, medium, and high transmission areas.   

If you want to learn more about how we’re responding to the COVID-19 pandemic both locally and globally, then visit our COVID-19 FAQs page.

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