Feeling overwhelmed and anxious about everything you’re hearing about COVID-19 is understandable. Children might also be feeling anxious and finding it hard to understand what is on television, what they are hearing from peers and what they are noticing around them with the temporary closure of shops, restaurants and many activities.
It is important to talk to your kids about COVID-19 and what you as a family can be doing to help stop the spread. Below are some great resources to help you start the conversation with your children.
Tips to help kids cope
Start by inviting your child to talk about the issue. Find out how much they already know and follow their lead. If they are particularly young and haven’t already heard about the outbreak, you may not need to raise the issue – just take the chance to remind them about good hygiene practices without introducing new fears.
Make sure you are in a safe environment and allow your child to talk freely. Drawing, stories and other activities may help to open up a discussion.
Most importantly, don’t minimize or avoid their concerns. Be sure to acknowledge their feelings and assure them that it’s natural to feel scared about these things. Demonstrate that you’re listening by giving them your full attention, and make sure they understand that they can talk to you and their teachers whenever they like.
Children have a right to truthful information about what’s going on in the world, but adults also have a responsibility to keep them safe from distress. Use age-appropriate language, watch their reactions, and be sensitive to their level of anxiety.
If you can’t answer their questions, don’t guess. Use it as an opportunity to explore the answers together. Websites of international organisations like UNICEF and the World Health Organisation are great sources of information. Explain that some information online isn’t accurate, and that it’s best to trust the experts.
One of the best ways to keep children safe from coronavirus and other diseases is to simply encourage regular handwashing. It doesn't need to be a scary conversation. Sing along with The Wiggles or follow this dance to make learning fun.
You can also show children how to cover a cough or a sneeze with their elbow, explain that it’s best not to get too close to people who have those symptoms, and ask them to tell you if they start to feel like they have a fever, cough or are having difficulty breathing.
When we’re seeing lots of troubling images on TV or online, it can sometimes feel like the crisis is all around us. Children may not distinguish between images on screen and their own personal reality, and they may believe they’re in imminent danger. You can help your children cope with the stress by making opportunities for them to play and relax, when possible. Keep regular routines and schedules as much as possible, especially before they go to sleep, or help create new ones in a new environment.
If you are experiencing an outbreak in your area, remind your children that they are not likely to catch the disease, that most people who do have coronavirus don’t get very sick, and that lots of adults are working hard to keep your family safe.
If your child does feel unwell, explain that they have to stay at home/at the hospital because it is safer for them and their friends. Reassure them that you know it is hard (maybe scary or even boring) at times, but that following the rules will help keep everyone safe.
The outbreak of coronavirus has brought with it numerous reports of racial discrimination around the world, so it’s important to check that your children are neither experiencing nor contributing to bullying.
Explain that coronavirus has nothing to do with what someone looks like, where they are from or what language they speak. If they have been called names or bullied at school, they should feel comfortable telling an adult whom they trust.
Remind your children that everyone deserves to be safe at school. Bullying is always wrong and we should each do our part to spread kindness and support each other.
It’s important for children to know that people are helping each other with acts of kindness and generosity.
Share stories of health workers, scientists and young people, among others, who are working to stop the outbreak and keep the community safe. It can be a big comfort to know that compassionate people are taking action.
You’ll be able to help your kids better if you’re coping, too. 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 or upset, take time for yourself and reach out to other family, friends and trusted people in your community. Make some time to do things that help you relax and recuperate.
It’s important to know that we’re not leaving children in a state of distress. As your conversation wraps up, try to gauge their level of anxiety by watching their body language, considering whether they’re using their usual tone of voice and watching their breathing.
Remind your children that they can have other difficult conversations with you at any time. Remind them that you care, you’re listening and that you’re available whenever they’re feeling worried.
Videos on how to talk to your kids about coronavirus
CREATE Foundation Videos
Washing your hands
Physical and social distancing
Children have a right to know what is going on, but as adults we have a responsibility to protect them from distress. There are ways to talk to children that will help limit their fears and address their concerns.
Use age appropriate language.
Show you are listening and their concerns are important to you.
Explain you haven’t been through anything like this either but you know the world will keep spinning and the sun will come up each day.
Remind them you are there to look after them.
Tell them if we listen carefully to advice and put one foot in front of another, it will be okay.
Let your children know that we are in the best possible position to fight this disease.
Explain that China has done a good job of researching and understanding the virus and is now coming out the other side, and so will we.
Remind them that there have been pandemics across history, the experts know what to do, and the disease will run its course (as all epidemics do).
It can be hard to know how to explain COVID-19. These are some ideas you can put into your own words to suit the age and stage of your child.
- COVID-19 is a disease caused by a new germ or bug.
- Germs are tiny organisms that live in our environment and can make us sick if they get in our bodies.
- You cannot see germs with your eyes (only under a microscope). They are a bit like chilli. You cannot see chilli on your hands but if you lick your fingers or touch your eyes you will know it is there!
- The germ that causes COVID-19 spreads easily from person to person and infects the breathing system, our nose, throat and lungs.
- It is passed from person to person through tiny droplets when people cough or sneeze.
- These droplets can be breathed in by others – which is why we should try not to get too close to others, and cover our sneezes and coughs with our arm or a tissue. Then wash our hands.
- The droplets might land on surfaces, like phones, door handles, tables and hands. If we shake someone’s hand or touch these things and then touch our eyes, mouth or nose, the germ can get inside us.
- We need to try not to touch our face, avoid shaking hands and wash our hands often, especially before eating (when we put our fingers to our mouth).
- Most kids won’t get very sick if they get COVID-19. If they do it will be a bit like getting a cold.
- The disease is more serious in old people and those that have other sicknesses already.
- We all need to do what we can to stop the germ spreading to keep it away from old/sick people.
If your child has the symptoms above and you’re concerned, here’s what to do:
- If you are in Queensland, phone 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84). If you are outside of Queensland, phone the Coronavirus Health Information Line on 1800 020 080 or Healthdirect on 1800 022 222.
- Describe your child’s symptoms, plus anything else that makes you think your child might have coronavirus (COVID-19) – for example, overseas travel or possible contact with an infected person.
- Follow the advice you’re given. This includes advice about staying at home, or taking precautions if you’re told to visit your GP, a local hospital or a screening clinic.
If you’re told to visit your GP, make sure to phone ahead and tell the GP clinic about your coronavirus concerns. Some GPs might be able set up a consultation by phone or video.
If you’re told to visit a hospital or screening clinic (which might be located at a hospital), check your state or territory health department website for locations.