How to talk to children about Coronavirus

18 March 2020

Many of us are wondering how to talk to children about Coronavirus / COVID-19 in a way that will be reassuring. Here are some things to consider.

1. Turn off the TV

We are seeing lots of troubling images on TV and online and children may not distinguish between what they see/hear and their own reality. Children may worry that they, their friends or family may catch it or die. Try to ensure the TV and radio are turned off whenever possible.

2. Take care of yourself

Children will pick up on your own response to the news, so it helps them to know you’re calm and in control. If you’re feeling anxious, take time to work through your own feelings and reach out to others if need be.

3. Ask open questions, listen and offer reassurance

Start by inviting your child to talk about what they’ve heard and how they feel, then try to follow their lead. It’s important to listen, to acknowledge their feelings and assure them that it’s natural to feel scared about these things.

Uncertainty causes anxiety. Keeping regular routines such as mealtimes and bedtimes are an essential part of keeping children happy and healthy.

Remember children often express their feelings through behaviour. You can help your children cope with stress by making opportunities for them to play and relax, when possible. The benefits of outdoor play are well known in regards to health and wellbeing. As much as possible, get children outside exploring and interacting in the natural environment.

4. Be honest: explain the truth in a child-friendly way

Children have a right to truthful information, but adults also have a responsibility to keep them safe from distress. Use age-appropriate language, provide facts and monitor their reactions. If you can’t answer their questions, don’t guess but use it as an opportunity to explore the answers together. We have provided some helpful links below. Keep checking in and make sure they understand that they can talk to you whenever they like.

5. Show them how to protect themselves and their friends

We can empower children by giving them some control over what is happening. Practising good hygiene can be fun and helps keep them safe.

  • Encourage regular hand washing with soap and water for a least 20 seconds (or the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice)
  • Show them how to cough/sneeze into a flexed elbow or tissue
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth

6.Teach empathy

This is a good opportunity to help our children develop empathy for those who are at risk or vulnerable. It’s important for children to know that people are helping each other with acts of kindness and generosity.

Useful Links

Helpful hints from well-known educational expert Maggie Dent

Department of Health & Human Services Advice

Up to date travel advice

Further advice and information from KidsHealth on how to support children