What to say to kids about COVID-19

by Rebecca Leach
Stripes Europe

Everyone has a lot of questions about COVID-19, including children. As parents, it’s difficult to know how to share information with our kids without overwhelming or scaring them. No one wants to be an alarmist, but we also need to be honest and share real information.

As you talk to your kids, decide what information to share bases on your child’s questions and concerns. If you have multiple children of different ages or levels of concern, you might want to talk to each one individually. Answer the questions your child asks. Don’t feel you need to explain everything.

Very young children

Your young child might only need to know that you are taking time off work and school to spend time together as a family. You might say, “I’ll be working from home for a while,” or “We’ll be having homeschool for the next few weeks.” They might not need or want any more explanation that this. When talking to young kids, using words like “healthy” and “happy” might be better than saying “We are keeping people safe,” which suggests there is a danger they need to be protected from. Let them know that these changes are just for a while.

Early elementary

  • There is a sickness going around and everyone is working together to help each other stay healthy.
  • Kids don’t get very sick from COVID-19.
  • Some things we can do to help keep everyone healthy are:
    • Wash our hands
    • Cough and sneeze into our elbows or a tissue
    • Stay home even if we don’t feel sick
  • The sickness is mostly a problem for older people, but we all want to help not spread germs.
  • Sometimes we spread germs even when we feel fine, and those germs might make your teacher, your coach, or your friend’s grandma get sick. To help everyone stay healthy, we are staying home for a while.
  • The virus doesn’t make most people very sick. But some people need help from doctors when they get COVID-19. We need to give doctors time to take care of the ones who are sick. We’re staying home so we don’t accidentally pass along germs and give the doctors too much work.
  • This isn’t forever. We will go back to school and work and birthday parties and all the regular things after we’ve given the doctors time to help all the people who are sick.

Middle grades

  • COVID-19 is a new kind of germ that is spreading around the world.
  • Young people generally don’t get very sick from this virus.
  • Everyone is working together to learn about how it works, to make sure people stay healthy, and to take care of those who get sick.
  • There are some ways that it is like the flu.
    • You can get it from other people. (It’s contagious)
    • You can avoid getting it by washing your hands, not touching your face, mouth, eyes and nose, using hand sanitizer, and staying away from other people
    • You can avoid sharing the COVID-19 germs by washing your hands, coughing and sneezing into your elbow or a tissue, and throwing the tissue away right away
    • It causes a cough, fever, and trouble breathing
    • Most people recover
  • There are some ways it’s different from the flu
    • It’s easier to pass from person to person
    • Young people generally don’t get as sick as older people
    • More people with COVID-19 need a doctor and hospital’s help while recovering than with the flu
  • You can carry the germs of this virus for about 2 weeks before you start feeling sick. During this time, you can spread the germs to other people.
  • The biggest problem with this pandemic is when too many people get sick all at the same time. This fills up the hospitals so there isn’t enough room to take care of everyone.
  • To help make sure that we are not spreading germs without knowing it, we are asked to stay home so other people won’t get sick.
  • This is kind of like a world-wide cooperative game. We are all working together to make sure that the germs spread slowly, so doctors don’t get too tired and hospitals don’t get too full so we can all win.
  • We need to be good citizens and do our part to help slow the spread. This means everyone will have to make sacrifices by giving up some things to help—like school, parties, sports, going to movies and concerts, and other things that involve getting together in places where germs can spread without us knowing it.
  • For a very relatable cooperative boardgame that middle schoolers might enjoy and that can prompt discussion, check out the game Pandemic. (Yep, for real!)
  • This isn’t forever. We will go back to school and sports and all the things we love after we’ve given the doctors time to help all the people who are sick.

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