7 tips for discussing coronavirus with kids

7 tips for discussing coronavirus with kids

Mom talking with children

As the mother of three children, Tidelands Health pediatrician Dr. Lucretia Carter has witnessed firsthand the concerns of children in response to the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
“I’m getting questions from my own children all the time,” says Dr. Carter, who practices at Tidelands Health Pediatrics in Myrtle Beach. “Recently, we were in the store, and my son said he couldn’t touch something because of the coronavirus.”
Just like the rest of us, children are regularly hearing about the coronavirus. Turn on a TV or visit a news website and you’ll see headlines about new confirmed cases of the virus, images of cruise ships or parts of countries being quarantined and people wearing masks as they go about their day-to-day lives.
It’s not surprising the virus could cause anxiety among young people.
Dr. Carter says there are ways for parents to ease children’s concerns by talking to them about it in a calm way and reminding them of the everyday habits they should be following to protect themselves from infectious diseases.
Here are some of Dr. Carter’s tips for discussing the coronavirus with your kids:

Bring it up

Even if your child hasn’t posed a question about the virus, Dr. Carter says it’s important to broach the topic with them in a calm way.
“They may be hearing all kinds of stories from other kids at school,” she says. “It’s better to bring it up with them so you can address any misinformation they may be receiving and ease their minds,” Dr. Carter says.

Keep it calm and simple

Talk to children in a way that’s age appropriate and don’t frighten them with alarmist or too much information.
As of Monday, March 16, approximately 4,600 cases of coronavirus had been diagnosed in the U.S.

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Although it may not be appropriate or necessary to delve into specific numbers, it’s accurate to tell children the risk of being exposed to coronavirus is currently low. Set expectations, however, by letting children know the number of cases is expected to increase.
“It’s also important to point out the vast majority of people who become ill with the coronavirus experience mild symptoms and recover at home,” Dr. Carter says. “And for reasons scientists can’t yet explain, relatively few children seem to get sick or becoming critically ill from the virus.”

Discuss the coronavirus like you would the flu

Many children already know about the flu and will be able to relate it to the coronavirus.
“I’d suggest talking about the coronavirus like you would the flu,” she says. “You can explain there are a lot of different types of viruses, and this is another one out there that’s similar to the flu.”

Remind them of healthy habits

Much like when discussing the flu, parents can encourage children to incorporate healthy habits that will help protect them from becoming ill. Reinforce the importance of hand hygiene, eating a healthy diet and getting enough sleep.
Teach children to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds — the equivalent to singing “happy birthday” twice. And remind kids to wash their hands when they come in from outside, before they eat, after using the bathroom or coughing, sneezing or blowing their noses.

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One way to encourage better hand hygiene is to make handwashing fun by using soaps in fun shapes or colors, she says.
Teaching children about the things they can do to protect themselves from getting sick is important because it will empower and reassure them, Dr. Carter says.

Stay informed

Because parents are an important source of information for their children, it’s important they stay abreast of updates.
If parents have questions, they can discuss the virus with a trusted care provider or turn to reliable sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control or the Tidelands Health coronavirus information center.

Maintain your routine

Although it’s important to take the appropriate precautions for the coronavirus, continuing with your family’s routine as much as possible can help reassure children.
“We need to keep our eyes open and stay up to date on what’s happening, but not completely change our lives,” Dr. Carter says. “Maintaining that routine is important, especially for children.”

Continue the discussion

Dr. Carter also says it’s important to periodically check in with children to get a sense as to how they’re feeling and what new questions may have arisen since your last discussion. Consider talking to your child’s care provider if you feel the coronavirus is triggering excessive anxiety for your child.

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