Coronavirus (COVID-19): How to Talk to Your Kids and What to Do At Home

As an organization centered around supporting families, we know how overwhelming this moment may feel for parents. With concerns around coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) increasing, shops, workplaces, theaters, and schools are closing, extra-curricular and social events are canceled, and states have directed communities to practice “social distancing” by staying inside.

It might not be easy to discuss these unknowns with your children or explain why their routine has shifted so suddenly. But as a caregiver, you play a central role in helping your children minimize their anxieties and sort through what they’re already hearing from friends, family, and the media. So, as you work through these conversations…

  1. Remain calm. Kids pick up a parent’s worry and try to carry it themselves. This means that how you say something is almost as important as what you say. 
  2. Make yourself available to talk. Make sure that your kids feel comfortable coming to you when they have questions or need to share their fears. Some kids might not be interested in talking, which is okay too. Just let them know they can always come to you for answers or to talk about what scares them—and make sure they know that it’s okay to feel afraid. 
  3. Stay honest and accurate. In any moment of crisis, misinformation spreads easily. Answer your children’s questions truthfully and simply, with age-appropriate language. For example, “COVID-19 stands for ‘coronavirus disease 2019.’ It is a new virus that doctors and scientists are learning about, and it is making a lot of people sick. Doctors say most people will be okay. But because some people might get pretty sick, we need to stay safe.” The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has helpful ways to talk about COVID-19.

    A part of helping children understand this disease is reminding them that some of what they read online may be based on rumors. There is no one race or ethnicity more likely to contract or spread COVID-19—so avoid making assumptions, placing blame, or creating stigma.

    And if you don’t know the answer to your child’s question, say so. It is better to find out the answer together than to guess. The CDC website maintains up-to-date, reliable information that can help you avoid the headlines and other scary information contained in a Google search. 
  4. Step away from screens. It’s important to stay informed, but too much information on one topic can make anyone anxious! Consider reducing the amount of COVID-19 related news you’re consuming as a family or limiting your news consumption to just one or two updates per day. 
  5. Follow the CDC’s recommendations.
    Following the CDC’s recommendations can keep your family safe and help your children feel more in control. So, make sure you all…
    1. Stay away from people who are coughing, sneezing, or sick. 
    2. Cough or sneeze into a tissue or your elbow, then throw the tissue into the trash. 
    3. Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after blowing your nose, coughing, sneezing, going to the bathroom, or before preparing and eating food. 
    4. Use hand sanitizer.

Being home from school and away from friends can easily contribute to heightened anxiety, too—for children and parents. Navigating this new home life might seem challenging, but consider the following tips and resources for keeping your family safe, sane, and healthy: 

  1. Maintain routine. With the current global situation, we’re facing a lot of unknowns. So, it’s more important now than ever to honor your child’s routine. Use school as a framework and determine what time each day should be set aside for meals, snacks, and breaks. Try to break the day into small, specialized chunks, like school does with subjects, and be sure to dedicate time for play.
    Remember, part of mirroring a school schedule will mean regulating screen time—as any classroom does. Create a set time in the schedule for screen time, and don’t forget to turn off screens when the time is over. Non-scheduled screen time should be reserved for when you need it—because you have a conference call or need to prep for dinner, for example. 

    Tip: Some of the best educational content creators understand the need for routine right now. That’s why many are hosting scheduled courses/play-time online like the Kennedy Center, who just announced that new Lunch Doodle times with Mo Willems will be released daily at 1PM EST. 
  2. Go on a field trip! From the Great Wall of China to the surface of Mars, museums, zoos, national parks, and other fun sites host virtual tours that can take you around the walls of the Louvre or the inside of a rocket from the comfort and safety of your own couch. For a list of virtual field trips, click here and, once you exhaust that list, click here. 
  3. Lean on the internet for learning tools. Several amazing education companies are now offering free subscriptions to keep your family on track despite school closings—from enrichment activities for babies and toddlers to AP test prep for high schoolers. PDXParent and have a great round-up for digital education resource options here and here
  4. Ramp up the LGBTQ+ curriculum. We’re always working hard to make sure your child’s classroom is as inclusive as it can be—but for LGBTQ+ families, sometimes the best LGBTQ+ based learning comes from inside the home! Queer Kid Stuff is an LGBTQ+ and social justice webseries for kids and families. There’s no time like the present to start exploring these topics together!  
  5. Read, read, read! In case you haven’t checked it out (or if you need a refresher), our Book Nook offers LGBTQ+ friendly book suggestions for all ages. If your at-home library looks scant, you can download e-books and audiobooks for free using your library card at most local libraries’ websites. 

Above all, remember: Even the most energetic and inspired parent will struggle to muster the motivation to keep up a stimulating schedule every day, especially while balancing an at-home work-life and a rapidly evolving national emergency. That’s okay. Do what you need to do to get through the day and lean on others—for virtual play-dates, post-bedtime phone calls, or digital community support sessions—to get by.