Talking to children about coronavirus

Since the beginning of the year, news of coronavirus has moved from a distant concern to a real worry for many of us.

Parents and carers have an important job to help children and young people to understand what’s happening. Listening to children really helps them to feel heard and understood, and in turn helps to calm any worries.

During this quickly changing situation, it’s important to explain to children that we as parents and carers are following trusted sources of health and travel advice from government experts, which currently recommends:

  • washing hands thoroughly and often with hot water and soap
  • using tissues when sneezing or coughing and throwing them away in a bin immediately
  • trying to avoid contact with people who are unwell.

This should be done at home, at school and everywhere children go. These good habits will help them, their friends and family stay healthy – and help the country. Singing ‘Happy birthday’ twice (or other songs that last for at least 20 seconds) while washing with warm soapy water will make sure their hands are really clean.

Talking and listening to children about their worries

Encourage your child to open up about any worries. You can do this by praising them for talking to you and taking them seriously.

Listen to what your child has said and to let them know you have heard them. Simply reflecting back to a child, for example: “you feel frightened” can help them to avoid being overwhelmed, because they see that you are calm.

Provide children with facts. You could make it clear that this is a new disease so people in charge – governments, scientists and doctors – are asking everyone to help to slow down the virus while they’re busy making medicine that will help.

Answer their questions honestly and try to use simple language depending on their age and ability to understand. While more people than usual might get ill – most will get something mild that’s a bit like flu, and only a few people get seriously sick.

A chance to be a role model

This is an important opportunity to help our children manage uncertain times and to show we can be calm role models.

It can be useful to think about what we can and can’t control.

Keeping things in perspective is a great tool: to go about our daily lives as usual until the official, trusted sources of advice tell us to do something different. It’s wise to avoid speculating about possible disruption with children. It’s better to explain clearly what’s happening day by day than to create worries about what may or may not happen.

Difficult conversations with children are chances to build an even better relationship with them. Give your child a cuddle and let them know it’s safe to talk to you about anything – even things that are scary or sad.

While we don’t provide medical advice, if you need to talk about anything affecting your family, or any worries you have, Parentline can help.