9 simple ways to have healthy discussions with kids about COVID-19

by Rebecca Leach
Stripes Europe

There have been a lot of changes recently because of COVID-19, and it is likely that more are on the way. It can be difficult, as a parent, to know how to broach these topics with our kids.

Just as with any sensitive subject, remember that young kids don’t need to know everything about this pandemic. If children are very young, they might only need to know that the family has some days off of work and school to spend together as a family. Older kids and teens will need more specific information.

Like adults, kids often want information one piece at a time. They may come back in an hour or a couple of days with more questions. Be prepared to base the amount of information you share on the questions your kids ask. They will signal how much information they need both through their questions and by when they stop asking questions.

  1. Take time to get accurate information yourself. You can’t provide good information for your kids if you don’t understand why governments and organizations are taking the steps they are. Read a few articles explaining the “why” behind the changes that are happening. If you understand what’s happening, you’ll be less fearful and more able to answer your kids’ questions.
  2. Provide a time to talk. Kids need space to ask any questions they have. You might start by asking, “What do you understand about the changes with school and work right now?” Then listen. They might need to express concerns in order to feel better. These may range from confusion about what’s going on, to being upset about not seeing friends, to fear about things they have seen online. Listen to their concerns and questions to gauge your answers.
  3. Answer their questions simply. If your child’s only question is why they can’t go to school, they may not need detailed information on the virus itself. If they ask how people can tell if they are sick, they are signaling that they are ready for more information about symptoms. Answer the questions your child asks. Don’t feel you need to explain everything.
  4. Provide accurate information. Kids can tell when you are bluffing. Trust them to be able to handle real information in age-appropriate ways.
  5. Recognize your own fears and concerns. Kids are most likely to be upset about the things you are upset about. This can cause a stress cycle for both and your kids. In order to nip this cycle in the bud, be honest with yourself and them about your stress. You might say, “I’m pretty stressed about everyone staying home right now. It’s kind of scary for me to not be going to work. That might be stressful for you too. What do you think we can do about it?”
  6. Find ways to feel in control. No one likes feeling powerless. Talk with your kids about specific things they can do to help themselves, your family and others stay healthy and happy. Providing a feeling that they are in control of many things in their life can help offset the feeling that changes are out of control. These might include making a list of tasks they’ll do each day while they are home, washing hands, preparing healthy food to boost immune systems, and setting up video chats with friends and family. 
  7. Provide comfort for yourself and your children. During times of stress, we can all use a little extra comfort. Ask your kids what things might help them feel happy and healthy. Then do your best to include these in your days. Do the same for yourself. Think about what actions you can take that will help you feel happy and healthy and then do them.
  8. Allow discussion about the things that are hard. Change and unpredictability are stressful. It’s healthy to be able to say, “This is really hard!” Let your kids talk about what is hard. You don’t need to solve these issues. Just listening and letting them know you’ve heard will help. You might respond with something like, “That is really hard. I’m sorry.”
  9. Find positives in the changes that are happening. Ask each family member to list one good thing that is happening because of the changes. Write these down and take time to discuss them. Create a family ritual of talking about one positive thing that has happened because of the changes each night before bed. 

Taking a few minutes each day to listen to your kids and answer their questions in age-appropriate ways can make the changes happening with COVID-19 easier on them and on the whole family.

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