Why it’s important to discuss COVID-19 with children

Collectively, we are all involved in preventing the spread of COVID-19. Students, educators, families and communities must be aware of the facts involved in the coronavirus pandemic.

What should be included in the discussion?

Families and educators should remember to keep the conversation appropriate to the child’s developmental age. Share facts using age-appropriate terminology, actively listen to students’ concerns and answer their questions as best as you can. It’s okay to let them know if you are unsure of the answer.

How to communicate information about COVID-19 to children

  • Stay calm and reassuring

  • Ask what they know or what they’ve heard

  • Keep children updated with facts

  • Be honest and available for discussions

  • Allow children to express their feelings

  • Validate their feelings

  • Limit media exposure

  • Clarify misinformation or misunderstandings such as stigmas and racial inaccuracies and historical context

Reactions To Expect From Children And How To Help

Age group: Preschool

Reactions may include the following.

  • Fear of being alone, clingy with trusted adults

  • Speech difficulties, physical aches and pains

  • Fears expressed through stories or play

  • Change in appetite

  • Increased temper tantrums, whining or being withdrawn

How to help:

  • Exhibit patience and tolerance

  • Provide verbal and physical reassurance of safety

  • Encourage expression through play, reenactment, storytelling and drawing

  • Allow short-term changes in sleep arrangements

  • Model self-care: Eat and provide healthy meals; maintain good sleep routines

  • Plan calming, comforting activities before bedtime

  • Maintain regular family routines

Age group: Elementary (Ages 6-10)

Reactions may include the following.

  • Irritability, whining, aggressive behavior

  • Clingy with trusted adults

  • Nightmares

  • Sleep and/or appetite disturbance

  • Physical symptoms (headaches, stomachaches)

  • Withdrawal from peers, loss of interest

  • Competition for family/parents’ attention

  • Forgetfulness about chores and new information learned

How to help:

  • Exhibit patience, tolerance and reassurance

  • Encourage play sessions and staying in touch with friends through telephone and internet

  • Be present and tolerant

  • Encourage regular exercise and stretching

  • Give structured household tasks

  • Engage in educational activities

  • Discuss the current outbreak and encourage questions. Talk about what they’ve seen or heard online or in the media, and include what is being done in the family and community to help reduce the spread of the outbreak.

  • Encourage expression through play and conversation

  • Help create ideas for enhancing positive health behaviors

  • Maintain family routines

Age group: Middle & High School Students (Ages 11-19)

Reactions may include the following.

  • Physical symptoms (headaches, rashes, etc.)

  • Sleep and/or appetite disturbance

  • Agitation or decrease in energy, apathy

  • Ignoring positive health behaviors

  • Isolating from peers and loved ones

  • Concerns about stigma and injustice

How to help:

  • Encourage self-care by modeling healthy eating, exercise, good sleep hygiene, deep breathing and meditation

  • Allow time to unwind

  • Encourage connecting with others using phones or the internet

  • Emphasize safety. Let them know it’s okay to be upset and scared. Share with them how to deal with stress and anxiety in a healthy way.