Coronavirus is dominating the news, and with the number of coronavirus patients rising around the world, children are being exposed to information and misinformation from many sources, which make them anxious. Acknowledging some level of concern, without panicking, is appropriate and can result in taking action that reduces the risk of illness. It is very important to remember that children look to adults for guidance on how to react to stressful events. If parents seem overly worried, children’s anxiety may rise. Helping children cope with anxiety requires providing accurate information and facts without causing undue alarm. Parents, family members, school staff, and other trusted adults can play an important role in helping children make sense of what they hear in a way that is honest, accurate, and minimizes anxiety or fear.
When dealing with children, bear in mind that their capacity to deal with complex and worrying information increases with age, so the way a parent speaks to a child of pre-school age is very different from dealing with an adolescent - and it involves personal judgement.
CDC (Center for Disease Control) has created guidelines to help adults have conversations with children about COVID-19 and ways they can avoid getting and spreading the disease.
General principles for talking to children about COVID-19:
1. Remain calm and reassuring.
- Remember that children will react to both what you say and how you say it. They will pick up cues from the conversations you have with them and with others.
2. Make yourself available to listen and to talk.
- Make time to talk. Be sure children know they can come to you when they have questions.
3. Avoid language that might blame others and lead to stigma.
- Remember that viruses can make anyone sick, regardless of a person’s race or ethnicity. Avoid making assumptions about who might have COVID-19.
4. Pay attention to what children see or hear on television, radio, or online.
- Consider reducing the amount of screen time focused on COVID-19. Too much information on one topic can lead to anxiety.
5. Provide information that is honest and accurate.
- Give children information that is truthful and appropriate for the age and developmental level of the child.
- Talk to children about how some stories on COVID-19 on the Internet and social media may be based on rumors and inaccurate information.
6. Review and model basic hygiene and healthy lifestyle practices for protection.
a. Remind children to stay away from people who are coughing, sneezing, or sick.
b. Remind them to cover their mouth with a tissue when they sneeze or cough and throw away the tissue immediately, or sneeze or cough into the bend of their elbow. Also, remind them not to share food or drinks.
c. Get children into a handwashing habit.
- Wash hands multiple times a day for at least 20 seconds (singing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” slowly takes about 20 seconds) especially after blowing their nose, coughing, or sneezing; going to the bathroom; and before eating or preparing food.
- If soap and water are not available, teach them to use hand sanitizer. Hand sanitizer should contain at least 60% alcohol. Supervise young children when they use hand sanitizer to prevent swallowing alcohol, especially in schools and childcare facilities.
d. Tell them to practice giving fist or elbow bumps instead of handshakes; fewer germs are spread this way.
e. Encourage children to eat a balanced diet, get enough sleep, and exercise regularly; all of which will help them develop a strong immune system to fight off illness.
Facts about COVID-19 for discussions with children
Try to keep information simple and remind them that health and school officials are working hard to keep everyone safe and healthy.
What is COVID-19?
- COVID-19 is the short name for “coronavirus disease 2019.”
- Most children don’t seem to get very sick with this virus. While a lot of adults get sick, most of them get better.
What can I do so that I don’t get COVID-19?
- You can practice healthy habits at home, school, and play to help protect against the spread of COVID-19: (As mentioned above)
- If you feel sick, stay home.
What happens if you get sick with COVID-19?
- COVID-19 can look different for different people. For many people, being sick with COVID-19 would be a little bit like having the flu.
- If you do get sick, it doesn’t mean you have COVID-19. People can get sick from all kinds of germs. What’s important to remember is that if you do get sick, the adults at home and school will help get you any help that you need.
- If you suspect your child may have COVID-19, call the healthcare facility to let them know before you bring your child in to see them.
About The Expert
DR. JOSELYN EUSEBIO, Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrician
Dr. Joselyn C. Alonzo-Eusebio is a graduate of Doctor of Medicine from the University of the East Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Medical Center. She had her Pediatric Residency Training in the same institution, after which, she pursued a fellowship in Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at UP-PGH. She had had further trainings in Developmental Pediatrics abroad (US and UK).
Dr. Eusebio is involved both in teaching and in clinical practice. For the academe, she’s currently an Associate Professor of the College of Medicine of UERMMMC, and Clinical Instructor at the New Era College of Medicine and St Luke’s College of Medicine. Dr. Eusebio holds various positions including the following: Chairman, Department of Pediatrics, UERMMMC; Head, Section of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at National Children’s Hospital; Vice-President, Philippine Pediatric Society and the Perinatal Association of the Philippines.
She’s a much sought-after speaker in conferences, scientific symposia, lay fora, here and abroad, both in platforms and in media, most especially on the topic of child development and behavior.
Talking with children about Coronavirus Disease 2019: Messages for parents, school staff, and others working with children. Page last reviewed: March 9, 2020. Content source: National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD), Division of Viral Diseases
Talking to Children About COVID-19 (Coronavirus): A Parent Resource © 2020, National Association of School Psychologists, 4340 East West Highway, Suite 402, Bethesda, MD 20814, 301-657-0270
Talking With Children: Tips for Caregivers, Parents, and Teachers During Infectious Disease Outbreaks, https://store.samhsa.gov/product/Talking-With-Children-Tips-for-Caregivers-Parents-and-Teachers-During-Infectious-Disease-Outbreaks/SMA14-4886
Coping With Stress During Infectious Disease Outbreaks, https://store.samhsa.gov/product/Coping-with-Stress-During-Infectious-Disease-Outbreaks/sma14-4885
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/transmission.html
Handwashing and Hand Sanitizer Use at Home, at Play, and Out and About, https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/pdf/hand-sanitizer-factsheet.pdf
For more information related to schools and physical and mental health, visit www.nasponline.org and www.nasn.org.