How to talk to kids about coronavirus

Confused about what you should – and shouldn’t – say to your children about the coronavirus pandemic? It’s an important conversation, so here’s how to tackle it.

With new developments daily, there’s no avoiding the coronavirus crisis – and that means your kids are probably asking questions.

“It’s very unlikely that you’ll be able to avoid your child hearing about coronavirus,” says La Trobe University clinical, educational and developmental psychologist Dr Leah Brennan.

“Therefore it’s really important that you provide them with accurate and non-alarming information.”

Struggling to know how to do that? You’re not alone. The following tips can help:

Keep it real, but age-appropriate and positive

“Don’t pretend it’s not happening,” says Telethon Kids Institute psychologist and child health researcher Dr Monique Robinson.

“Children need to change their behaviour so it’s important they know what’s going on, but always in an age-appropriate manner.

“Keep it simple for young kids and provide more detailed information for older kids, but always keep the message as positive as possible in terms of what the world is doing to try and stop the virus spreading.”

Don’t burden kids with problems they can’t solve

While honesty is important and you may have genuine concerns about the impact of COVID-19, Dr Robinson says it’s crucial not to get kids involved in bigger problems they can’t solve – such as income changes.

“The virus is affecting our daily routine and threatening our health and financial security – they’re BIG issues,” she says.

So don’t brush aside concerns of family and friends – but keep adult conversations among adults.

“Choose when you talk about your fears over coronavirus. Try to make sure the kids aren’t around and as much as possible, keep the vibe positive when they are,” she says.

Encourage calmness and perspective

Start by finding out what they know.

“Ask open-ended questions and address any excessive fear or misinformation that may be circulating around the playground,” says Dr Robinson.

“Remind them that although they might catch it, it’s unlikely to make them feel very sick and most people will recover fully.

“And tell kids that the world’s best scientists are working hard to understand the virus and develop a vaccine.

“This encourages confidence and a sense of control in a situation that may feel out of control.”

Try to remain calm yourself, by seeking reputable sources of information. Treat social media with caution.

kids hand washing

Try to bring some normality to their day

Dr Brennan says keeping things as consistent as possible is also important.

“Try to keep routines as similar as possible, and if you do need to start doing things differently, try to be consistent with the new routine so that it becomes familiar and reassuring for children,” she says.

Focus on what kids can do to help

“Feeling like there’s something we can do to protect ourselves is helpful for all of us,” Dr Brennan says.

“So after you’ve explained that there’s a new type of cold that could make some people very sick, so we need to do some things differently for a while to help stop more people from getting sick. Focus on the practical things we can do.

“Covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, washing hands thoroughly and regularly and keeping a distance from people are all things you can talk to your child about.”

Make the most of the changes

Dr Brennan says finding opportunities to do special things with your children during times like these can make a big difference.

“It could be spending extra time together, reading an extra story at bedtime, doing more arts and craft, cooking, playing a board game and – assuming you don’t have any symptoms – lots of extra cuddles. This will help your child feel secure and loved,” she says.

Kids and coronavirus – more information and help:

If you are experiencing symptoms of coronavirus, call the 24/7 hotline on 1800 675 398. You can also use the Healthdirect symptom checker.

Instant Consult offers on-the-spot online GP consultations and can issue medical certificates, prescriptions, radiology and pathology requests and specialist referrals.

Written by Karen Fittall.