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Talking to children about COVID-19


With news of the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) outbreak everywhere, many parents are wondering how to bring up the epidemic in a way that will be reassuring and not make kids more worried than they already may be.

Children react, in part, on what they see from the adults around them. When parents and caregivers deal with the COVID-19 virus calmly and confidently, they can provide the best support for their children. Parents can be more reassuring to others around them, especially children, if they are better prepared.

Not all children respond to stress in the same way. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some common changes to watch for in children:

  • Excessive crying and irritation
  • Returning to behaviors they have outgrown (toileting accidents or bedwetting, etc.)
  • Excessive worry or sadness
  • Unhealthy eating or sleeping habits
  • Irritability and “acting out” behaviors
  • Difficulty with concentration and attention
  • Avoidance of activities enjoyed in the past
  • Unexplained headaches or body pain
  • Use of tobacco, alcohol or other drugs

There are many things you can do to support your child. The Child Mind Institute offers the following advice:

Don’t be afraid to discuss the coronavirus. Most children will have already heard about the virus or seen people wearing face masks, so parents shouldn’t avoid talking about it. Not talking about something can actually make kids worry more. Your goal is to help your children feel informed and get fact-based information that is likely more reassuring than whatever they are hearing from their friends or on the news.

Be developmentally appropriate. Don’t volunteer too much information, as this may be overwhelming. Instead, try to answer your child’s questions. Do your best to answer honestly and clearly. It’s OK if you can’t answer everything; being available to your child is what matters.

Take cues from your child. Invite your child to tell you anything they may have heard about the coronavirus, and how they feel. Give them ample opportunity to ask questions. You want to be prepared to answer (but not prompt) questions. Your goal is to avoid encouraging frightening fantasies.

Deal with your own anxiety. When you are feeling most anxious or panicked, that isn’t the time to talk to your kids about what’s happening with the virus. If you notice that you are feeling anxious, take some time to calm down before trying to have a conversation or answer your child’s questions.

Be reassuring. Children are very egocentric, so hearing about the coronavirus on the news may be enough to make them seriously worry that they’ll catch it. It’s helpful to reassure your child about how rare the coronavirus is and that kids actually seem to have milder symptoms.

Focus on what you are doing to stay safe. Kids feel empowered when they know what to do to keep themselves safe. We know that the virus is transmitted mostly by coughing and touching surfaces. The CDC recommends thoroughly washing your hands as the primary means for staying healthy. So remind kids that they are taking care of themselves by washing their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds when they come in from outside, before they eat, and after blowing their nose, coughing, or using the restroom. If kids ask about face masks, explain that they aren’t necessary for most people, but that those people are being extra cautious.

Stick to routine. This is particularly helpful as schools or daycares are shut down. Make sure you are taking care of the basics just like you would during a spring break or summer vacation. Structured days with regular mealtimes and bedtimes are an essential part of keeping kids happy and healthy.

Keep talking. Tell kids that you will continue to keep them updated as you learn more.

Additional information on ways to manage stress and anxiety and on how to talk with your children about coronavirus is available by calling the Columbiana County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board office (330-424-0195) or on the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services website at

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