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How to talk about COVID-19 to children

Published by Isbi Schools on Tuesday 24th of March 2020 04:36:44 PM

We are living in very unusual times of late, and the status quo seems to be changing by the day. This can be very unnerving and scary for adults, but for children it can be so much more confusing. 


There are two causes for concern here - the first is regarding health, and being worried about catching the virus. The other reason many children may become alarmed is that everything around us is changing: the majority of shops, libraries, restaurants etc are closed; supermarkets may be overcrowded or have limited stock; they are not going to school, but they can’t play with their friends. For many, this will be a bigger cause for concern than the concept of a virus.


The good news is that in most cases, schools have already done a brilliant job of explaining about the virus, hand washing and things like coughing into one’s elbow and so on. Teachers have been vigilant around this sort of thing for a while now, and your child has probably been to assemblies about this very thing.


The main thing to bear in mind here is to take your child’s lead. Some may want to know the details of the illness, who it affects, what is going on; others may not want to talk about it at all. 


It’s also important to bear in mind that your child will take their lead from you. If you appear panicked, anxious and uptight about it they will behave in the same way. For this reason it’s wise to try and contain any anxiety you may feel as much as possible. Talk in calm and reassuring tones and try not to seem upset.


It’s natural for children to worry about getting sick so it’s important to allow them to voice their fears, and not to brush them off with "don’t be silly.” Instead, agree and say things like "it is a scary time isn’t it”- but also reassure them by pointing out that children usually only experience mild symptoms. Older children may be calmed by looking at statistics of how many people who get the virus only have mild symptoms, and how many people who are seriously ill make a full recovery. It’s also important to point out to a healthy child that a fit and healthy person should be absolutely fine.


Help them to feel in control by washing hands properly and talking about what is being done to keep people safe. Explain that the precautions they can see around them are to protect older and more vulnerable people from catching the virus.


Suggest that they keep a journal or diary to record this period of their lives. There has not been a global pandemic since 1918 and in years to come they, as well as their children and grandchildren, will find their writing interesting and informative to look back on. As well as this, journaling is a great way to help to ease anxiety and worry.


Most importantly remember that this is not a "one and done” conversation - with things changing so rapidly, children are likely to have renewed concerns as time goes on. They may worry about missing school, feel sad about not seeing their friends, worry about going out of the house at all in case they catch it, about running out of food, about being stuck in a crowd in a shop. All of these are ongoing things your child may want to talk to you about. It’s worth creating that space each day where they can come and chat with you if they want to.


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