Talking to your children about COVID-19

Talking to your children about COVID-19

Talking to your children about COVID-19 teaser

08 Apr 2020

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the constant stream of updates about COVID-19 and the new measures that are being implemented to reduce the spread of the virus and keep us safe.
It’s also understandable if your children are feeling anxious, too. Children are very receptive to their parents and pick up those feelings of stress and anxiety. They might also find it difficult to understand what they are seeing or hearing from other people. Having an open, supportive discussion with your children can help them understand, cope and even make a positive contribution for others.
1. Calm yourself

Before talking to your children, prepare yourself by making sure you are calm, so they don’t read your non-verbal stress signals. You’ll be able to help your kids better if you’re coping, too.

If you’re feeling anxious or upset, take time for yourself to do things that help you relax and reach out for support. You can call Lifeline on 13 11 14, available 24/7.

2. Ask open questions and listen

Invite your children to talk about the issue and let them talk to you about how much they already know. If they are young and haven’t heard about the virus, you may not need to raise the issue, but this is a good opportunity to remind them to practise good hygiene without introducing new fears.

By letting your children guide the conversation, you will hear the concerns that are most important to them. These may be questions about why they can’t go to their friend’s birthday party or why there’s not a lot on the grocery store shelves. During the conversation, give them your full attention and don’t minimize or avoid their concerns. Acknowledge their feelings and assure them that it’s natural to feel worried about these things.

3. Explain information in a child-friendly way

Children have a right to know what is going on in the world, but adults also have a responsibility to keep them safe from distress. Use age-appropriate language, be mindful of their reactions, and be sensitive to their level of anxiety. Here is a good source to determine what information is age appropriate.

If you don’t know the answer a question, use it as an opportunity to find the answers together instead of guessing. Websites such as and are great sources of information.
If your children are old enough to use the internet, explain that some information online isn’t accurate, and that it’s best to trust the experts. If they have come to some conclusions that aren’t accurate (e.g. being fearful of certain racial groups or that they will die), providing them with evidence that reduces catastrophising.

4. Show them how to protect themselves and their friends

One of the best ways to keep children safe from coronavirus and other diseases is to simply encourage regular handwashing. It doesn't need to be a scary conversation. You can make learning fun for them by following the Wiggles Sing Along  or imagine their hands are animals playing or wrestling.  

You can also show them how to cover their coughs or a sneezes with their elbow, explain that it’s best not to get too close to people who are coughing and sneezing, and ask them to tell you if they are feeling sick, coughing or are having difficulty breathing.
5. Offer reassurance 

With the constant stream of COIVD-19 updates on the internet, TV or radio, it can sometimes feel like the crisis is all around us. Children may not distinguish between what they see on TV and their own personal reality, which may cause them to feel that they are in imminent danger. Help your children cope by making opportunities for them to play and relax. Keeping your regular routines and schedules as much as possible can also help. As many people are now working from home, things may have changed, but try creating new routines in place of your old ones.

If you are experiencing an outbreak in your area, remind your children that they are not likely to catch the virus, and that lots of adults are working hard to keep your family safe.

If your child does feel unwell, explain that they will have to stay at home until they are better because it is safer for them and their friends. Acknowledge that you know it is hard (maybe scary or even boring), but that following the rules will help keep everyone safe.

6. Check in to minimise stigma

The outbreak of COVID-19 has brought numerous reports of racial discrimination around the world, so it’s important to check that your children are neither experiencing nor contributing to bullying.

Explain that COVID-19 has nothing to do with what someone looks like, where they are from, and if your children have been bullied, they should feel comfortable telling an adult.

Remind your children that bullying is always wrong, and we should all do our part to spread kindness and support each other.

7. Spread kindness

It’s important for children to know that people are helping each other with acts of kindness and generosity.

Share stories of doctors, nurses and scientists, who are working to stop the spread of COVID-19 and keep the community safe. It can comfort them to know trusted people are taking action.

8. Finish your conversations with care

As your conversation wraps up, gauge their level of anxiety by watching their verbal and non-verbal communications. You don’t want to leave them feeling distressed about the conversation.

Remind your children that they can talk to you any time if they have more questions or if they’re feeling worried.

If you are struggling to cope and need someone to talk to, please remember that there is always someone to listen. Call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Written by Tehani Payton

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