How to Explain COVID-19 to Children

Practical Advice for Navigating through the Coronavirus Outbreak with your Children

In this challenging time, parents are facing additional concerns of how to explain COVID-19 and the new realities of school closures and social distancing. The increased stress reduces the ability to regulate emotions and think through actions. Please know that you are not alone in this struggle. We worship the God who created the universe and is never surprised by difficult times, anxiety, or viruses.

The following information will help you and your child navigate through this time together, without losing your peace.

• Communicate with your children. There is a lot of misinformation about COVID-19 that your children may encounter. It is helpful to remind your children that you are available to talk if they have questions or concerns. Keep conversations developmentally and age-appropriate. Answer their questions without more information and statistics than they need or may understand. The question concerning most of the children we care for is, “will I continue to be cared for?” Try to sandwich any conversation on COVID-19 with the message that they will be cared for and that you are doing everything you can to protect them. It is okay to tell your children that you do not know the answer to a question but will look for more information.

• Explain any new vocabulary and sights they may see. Children notice people wearing masks, empty store shelves, and cancelled activities. Explain in developmentally appropriate terms what is happening and why. Remember that empty shelves in the store may frighten children who have experienced lack of food and other resources in the past. Remind kids that you will take care of their needs.

• Be proactive with a positive attitude. Remind children that in this time with so many things beyond our control, there are many actions we can take to be proactive in preventing the spread of the virus. When parents model a positive attitude and acceptance of the social distancing requirements, children absorb a “can-do” mentality that will help them accept these new realities and any future challenges.

  1.  Teach your children proper hand washing technique. Try to make it fun with silly songs to meet the 20-second time recommendation for effective washing. Model good hand hygiene.
  2. Remind children to avoid touching their face.
  3. Explain how social distancing (school closures, event closures, play date cancellations, etc.) can help us fight this virus together. Model your own social distancing with a positive attitude.

• Stay busy. Although many children’s activities have been reduced or eliminated, it is important to keep young minds and bodies active. This is a great time to bring out board games, puzzles, and play in the backyard.

• Maintain “normal” life as much as possible. Keep daily routines that include time for academic activities, physical activity, and play time.

• Create new ways to maintain a sense of community. Write letters or draw pictures for grandparents or to send to nursing homes. Call or video conference friends and relatives. If new restrictions don’t allow for church attendance, hold your own church service in your homes with just your family.

• Maintain your own emotional regulation. Our kids will never be more emotionally regulated than their caregivers. Take time to breathe, pray, listen to music, and support each other. Children learn emotional regulation from watching calm parents modeling those skills. Let your children “catch you in the act” of calming yourself.

• Remember what is important. COVID-19 may temporarily take away our events, shut down our schools, and postpone our work, but it cannot steal our community, our family, or our joy. Help your children remember the importance of faith, love, and family during this stressful time. Those lessons will long outlast these temporary challenges.

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isaiah 43:1-3).

Article written by Jennie Dalcour, MA, LPC
Child & Family Therapist, Christian Family Care