Together is a new resource for anyone affected by pediatric cancer - patients and their parents, family members, and friends.Learn More
Coronavirus and COVID-19 have caused many changes in daily life. Children may be confused, worried, or scared. Parents and caregivers often don’t know what to say or how much to tell their children.
Find out what your child has heard and any question he or she might have. With so many sources of information, from the media to friends, it is important to make sure children are getting accurate information.
To start some of these conversations, you may ask:
“Have you heard people at school or your friends talking about coronavirus? What are they saying?”
“Do you have questions about coronavirus?”
“What types of things have you heard about coronavirus?”
For younger children, use simple and developmentally appropriate language. For example,
“Have you heard grown-ups talking about a new virus called coronavirus?”
“Have you heard the word ‘COVID-19’? Do you know what it is?”
Children can have a range of reactions. Some children may be very worried or anxious. Other children may think it is no big deal and not take precautions seriously. It can be helpful to ask about their general feelings as well as how they feel about changes in daily life.
“How worried are you about coronavirus?”
“What are your biggest worries?”
”How do you feel when you hear about coronavirus?”
“How do you feel when you see others wearing masks?”
“What do you think about school being canceled?”
Talk openly and honestly with your child. Being open and sharing information can reduce anxiety, confusion, and misconceptions. Children can have bright imaginations, which can lead to unnecessary anxiety in times of stress. Because of this, try to find a healthy balance between answering questions openly without overwhelming them with too much information. It’s okay if you don’t know the answer to a question. You can reply:
“That is a great question. I don’t know the answer, but we can ask your doctor.”
The virus outbreak can cause increased stress and anxiety for everyone. It is important to remember that children can pick up on the emotions and anxiety of parents and caregivers. Be aware of how you are managing your own anxiety. When talking to your child about coronavirus, do your best to maintain a calm presence. Also, try to be mindful of when your child might overhear conversations or pick up on behaviors that show your anxiety. Talk about the things they can do to help prevent illness, like washing hands.
Remember that play is the language of children. Play allows for emotional expression and promotes development. For younger children with fewer language skills, play is essential for communication, expression, and overall coping. We encourage continued play and normal routines as much as possible. Make sure you take the proper health precautions as recommended by your doctor. If you have to change your normal routine, explain why using facts and reassurance.
You may have noticed things at your hospital or medical clinic are a little different. Your child may be wondering about some of these changes. These changes are to protect everyone and help prevent the spread of germs. In order to reduce the risk of COVID-19, many hospitals are screening people and limiting events. This may include limiting siblings and other family members.
Here are some responses to common questions your child may ask about changes at your health care facility:
The hospital is working very hard to keep everyone safe and healthy. In order to do that, we have to answer some questions to make sure we are healthy and not bringing any of the germs or viruses into the hospital.
Lots of the fun events are often hosted by volunteers or people from the community. In order to keep everyone safe and healthy, events are postponed to limit extra people at the hospital and reduce the risk of spreading more viruses and germs.
I know your sister/brother usually comes with us and this might make you sad or upset that he/she has to stay home. But the doctors and nurses are working really hard to make sure everyone stays safe and healthy. They are trying to have as few people on campus as possible to lower the risk of spreading viruses and germs.
Everyone is working hard to keep others safe from germs. They care for a lot of people. They wear gowns and gloves and masks because we don’t want the virus to spread.
As parents, you know your child best. Some children want to know a little. Some children want to know a lot. These are some suggestions for child-friendly ways to answer questions about coronavirus and COVID-19. You can give more or less information based on your child.
Coronavirus is a virus that can make you feel sick. It’s kind of like getting a bad cold or the flu. If you catch it, you may feel sick. You may get a fever, cough, or feel tired.
COVID-19 stands for coronavirus disease 2019. It is the illness that you get from the virus.
Most people feel like they have a cold or the flu. You may have a fever, cough, or feel tired. Some people get a sore throat or have a runny nose or feel achy. It can be hard to notice if you are sick. That’s why it’s really important to tell someone if you start feeling bad at all.
Just like any sickness, you can spread germs to other people if you cough or sneeze. The germs stay inside the mask and don’t spread to others.
Some people can get very sick because their body can’t fight the virus as well. Wearing a mask can help protect you from the germs that make you sick.
It is true the virus can make you very sick, but that doesn’t happen very often. Most children who get sick just have a few symptoms, like a cold or the flu. People who are very sick go to the hospital so they can have extra care. We don’t want you to be afraid, and there are lots of things that can keep us from getting sick, like handwashing and staying away from big crowds.
If your child is immunocompromised, talk about the risks using a simple, matter-of-fact approach. It is important to give children a sense of control and responsibility as much as possible. This can help reduce worry and make it more likely that they practice healthy habits to prevent illness.
The virus spreads like a cold or the flu through germs. There are things we can do to keep you from catching it and spreading it to others. We are being extra good about washing our hands really well and even more than usual. Try to keep your hands away from your face, eyes, mouth, and nose. If you feel like you are going to sneeze or cough, do so into tissues or your elbow.
Use child friendly ways to make handwashing fun, including singing the ABCs, Happy Birthday, or sing your child’s favorite song for 20 seconds.
Sometimes teenagers feel invincible or that risks do not apply to them. You may have noticed your teen or teen siblings not taking the coronavirus seriously. Or they may think that everyone is just blowing it out of proportion. Keep in mind that teens may be hearing misinformation from others, especially friends and social media. Talk openly to your teen and clarify any misconceptions they may have. Emphasize the importance of using recommended strategies to prevent the spread of coronavirus, such as hand washing.
If you feel you need additional support in discussing coronavirus and COVID-19 or coping with related anxiety, many members of your child’s care team can support you and your child. Let your medical team know your concerns.
Reviewed: March 2020