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Kitchen Conversations: How to Talk with Young Children About COVID-19

Posted on by Blog Administrator

Parents having conversation with teenageThis pandemic has been a challenge for everyone. The COVID-19 outbreak has changed our daily lives in ways we never could have imagined. As a result, many of us are wearing multiple hats, including that of a homeschool teacher.

Children learn from adults outside of scheduled school time, too. Kids are observant. They soak in what’s around them and take their cues from the adults in their lives. In these situations, adults can lead by example in the ways we cope with stress and talk with others about COVID-19.

Parents, family members, and other trusted adults can play an important role to help children make sense of what they see and hear about COVID-19 in a way that is honest, accurate, and minimizes anxiety or fear. Let the kitchen table —either real or virtual— be a safe space to have open and reassuring conversations with kids. Here are some ways that you can minimize their stress and ease their worry about COVID-19:

Preparation & presentation

Before talking with kids about COVID-19, remember that children are not little adults. Presentation, tone, and word choice matter.Get COVID-19 Facts. Look to sources of timely, consistent, and reliable information to better understand how to protect yourself and your family. Emphasize to older children that where you get information matters.

  • Make yourself available to listen and to talk.
  • Put restrictions on what and how much kids see or hear on TV, radio, and online.
  • Be calm and reassuring.
  • Use simple language that does not blame others and lead to stigma.
  • Provide honest and accurate information.
  • Explain that staying at home prevents disease from spreading
    to others.
  • Use interactive methods like coloring books to explain what a
    virus is.

Kitchen-table conversations

Talking about COVID-19 with children will probably bring up some questions. Adults can be more reassuring if they are prepared. CDC has published advice to help adults have conversations with children about COVID-19. Here is a list of possible questions that a child might have and some suggestions on how to answer them.

What is COVID-19?

“COVID-19 is the short name for a virus called coronavirus disease 2019. The capital letters ‘CO’ stand for corona, the capital letters ‘VI’ stand for virus, and the capital ‘D’ stands for disease. It’s a new type of coronavirus that we haven’t seen before. COVID-19 can be passed easily from one sick person to a healthy person by a cough, sneeze, or spit. That’s why it’s important for us to stay home right now, wash our hands a lot, and cover our coughs and sneezes.”

Why do I have to cancel my birthday party?

“Getting together in groups might spread germs that can make people sick right now. But we don’t necessarily need to cancel the party. Let’s have a virtual party instead. Maybe we can all get together in-person some other time.”

Why can’t we visit grandma and/or other family members?

“Sometimes, virus germs make older people like your grandparents sicker than younger people. For now, we can send a card or artwork, call on the phone, or video chat with them. Don’t worry. They understand that we’re being extra careful to make sure that they don’t get sick. We’ll be able to go see them again when fewer people are getting sick from the new virus.”

Why can’t I play with my friends (e.g., have a play date)?

“We have to be extra careful right now not to spread germs to our friends. It isn’t always going to be this way. When fewer people are getting sick from the new virus, we can start playing with our friends again. For now, let’s call or video chat with your friends to see how they’re doing. Afterward, how about you and I take a walk or go on a
bike ride.”

When will school open again?

“School buildings are closed to make sure that you, your friends and your teachers don’t get sick from the new virus. When fewer people are getting sick, you will be able to go back to school. I’m not sure when that will happen, but it will happen eventually. We’ll have to wait and see when the state government tells school principals that it’s safe for schools to open.”

What will happen if I get sick?

“You probably won’t get sick because you’re doing such a great job of staying home. Scientists and doctors think that most people will be okay, especially kids. If you got sick, we would give you medicine to make you feel better and make sure that you are getting lots of rest and plenty to drink. We would also need to be very careful to keep things that you touched clean.”

What will happen if you get sick?

“I probably won’t get sick because we’ve been staying home so much. If I did get sick, I would probably feel bad for a week or two. I might get a cough or have a fever. I would want to do my best to make sure that you didn’t catch the virus from me. So, I may need to stay in my room for a while, and we might need to be extra careful about how close we get to each other until I was feeling better. [Insert the name of another trusted adult] will take care of you if I
got sick.”

When will all of this be over?

“That’s a great question! No one knows when this will end because this kind of situation hasn’t happened in a long time. That’s why it’s so important for everyone to stay home right now to make sure that people don’t spread germs that can make other people sick. Our leaders, including scientists, are working very hard every day to try and get everything back to normal. We must be patient until happens. One thing that we know for sure is that this won’t last forever. One day, life will get back to the way it used to be.”

Keep the conversation going

The COVID-19 outbreak and other topics that can cause kids to worry will continue to be in the news, social media, and everyday conversations. So, it is important to keep the conversation you have with kids open-ended.

Check in with kids often to ask how they’re doing. Educate them about how their bodies fight disease (e.g., building a healthy immune system) and on the importance of good hygiene, such as effective handwashing.

This outbreak also gives adults an opportunity to talk to kids about the importance of staying informed in an emergency and how to process what they hear.

The struggle is real, but that’s okay!

We live in challenging times, but these challenges have the potential to bring us together and make us better people. As adults, each one of us can help children process this situation. Take the time to have an ongoing kitchen-table conversation about COVID-19 with your children, nephews, nieces or grandchildren. Together we can help children get through these challenges.

Resources

Thanks in advance for your comments on this Public Health Matters post. Please note that the CDC does not give personal medical advice. If you are concerned you have a disease or condition, talk to your doctor.

Have a question for CDC? CDC-INFO (http://www.cdc.gov/cdc-info/index.html) offers live agents by phone and email to help you find the latest, reliable, and science-based health information on more than 750 health topics.

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