Language to Talk About Coronavirus With Kids

At every waking moment, it seems that we can’t escape hearing about Coronavirus. Every media outlet talks non-stop about COVID-19. So it’s no wonder that parents are worried about how to address this rapidly spreading contagious illness with their children. Here, helpful tips on keeping the conversation simple from Lisa Tiano, a parenting and teen expert, author and founder of REAL Teen Talk and InnerStarGirl. Learn the language to talk about Coronavirus with kids.

Language Matters

I think it’s necessary to be careful of the language we’re using, especially with young ones. It’s important to learn the language to talk about Coronavirus with kids.We need to strike a balance between explaining what Coronavirus is in simple terms and understanding what they need to know.  That’s just to be able to make children aware of the importance of keeping healthy and safe as a family. There’s a heightened sense of anxiety when people go into too much detail. With children that’s only fueling the fire.  We all know that children have incredible imaginations. While this is a wonderful trait, we wouldn’t want them to go off on imaginary tangents leading to unnecessary levels of stress and anxiety.  Sometimes parents don’t realize when they speak too much about the same topic. Doing so can provide too much uneccesary information and cause a great deal of alarm.

So, here’s what parents can do…

Explain the Coronavirus in 2 to 3 sentences.  Let children know this is a germ that makes people sick. Similar to the flu, this illness causes people to get a fever and a cough. It can make it hard for people to breathe.

Talk about how people can catch this illness.  It’s just like a virus that spreads from person to person (like a cold or cough). Germs are spread when they go into the air and someone is close by who can catch those germs.

Germs travel very easily. This is why we need to stay away from friends and people (that’s the easy way of explaining “social distancing”).  We wouldn’t want to breathe in the air with those same germs that people may have. Staying close or touching someone who’s sick is what makes other people sick.

Hand washing

Talk about the importance of washing hands with soap and water, just like teachers do at school.  When you sneeze or cough, you do that into your elbow or into a tissue. Then, go to the bathroom to wash hands. This way, germs from your sneezing and coughing aren’t spread into the air or onto surfaces you touch.  With younger children, teaching them to count to 20 (reinforcing counting skills) or singing a song while washing (like the ABC song or Happy Birthday song) can make it fun.

Children might ask, “why are people wearing masks?”  Explain it very simply: Masks are worn for people to not share germs. You don’t need to wear a mask, but some people prefer to wear one. This is especially true for people who feel sick and don’t want to make others sick.

What doctors are doing

Don’t be surprised if your kids ask this hard question: “Can someone die from Coronavirus?” This is a tough question to address, but one that’s necessary. You don’t need to elaborate, but model calmness in your voice. You can share that many people have not died from this. And tell them that doctors are working around the clock to take care of people who are very sick. Plus say  experts are doing everything they can to prevent this  from spreading and so people don’t die from it. This is why it’s so important that we take good care of each other. It’s also why we need to practice good hygiene and healthy behaviors like we talked about.

Why they’re asking

Kids ask a lot of questions to make sense of what they may not understand. They are hearing many things around them– from you, siblings, other adults and from the news channels on in your home. They may even be repetitive and continue asking the same questions to you. Do the same thing without sounding anxious. They just want that reassurance from you as their parent or guardian. Think about how terrifying it is for a young person to hear all the news reports, explicit information and terms going be used. You might not realize they are absorbing it all when you’re talking to your spouse or other children who might be older.

Lastly, tell your children that you are all doing your best as a family to keep healthy and safe, because you love them.  It’s healthy to talk about feelings and address questions. No need to be hyper-focused on Coronavirus details that will nonetheless go over young children’s heads. Keep a reassuring, calming voice so they’re not feeling overwhelmed, scared or anxious. Add the reminder that it’s important to eat healthy food get a good amount of rest and exercise (which you can all do together as a family). Remember what you just read in Learn the Language to Talk about Coronavirus with Kids. Keep your words simple and your attitude positive. Your kids can sense how you feel too.

Lisa Tiano, Parenting and teen expert, author, and founder of REAL Teen Talk and InnerStarGirl, consults with dozens of parents and teens in her practice. She guides families on academic, social and emotional issues, such as social stressors, bullying, body image, friendship shifting, mean girl aggression, and how to gain resilience and confidence when faced with obstacles.

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