Darren T. Scoggin, MD
Children’s Medical Group
There is so much discussion on a constant basis about the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) that kids are sure to hear it mentioned at some time or another. Have your kids asked you what it is? How have you answered them? If you have not had these discussions yet, they probably will come up at some point. Here are a few things to keep in mind when discerning how to navigate such a potentially scary subject with your child:
- Be specific. Try to use specific words rather than generalities (example: “germ” or “virus” instead of “something that makes you sick”).
- Set an example. If children see parents fearful and showing panic, they are likely to do the same. Instead, families can calmly discuss a plan to be prepared and stay informed.
- Stick to the facts. There may be a plethora of material circulating on social media, but use fact-based sites to gather your information such as cdc.gov, MSDH.ms.gov, and healthychildren.org.
Here’s an example of how a parent might answer a young child who asks about the coronavirus:
“The coronavirus is a germ/virus that can make people sick. A lot of people who get this virus will get sick with a bad cold and may have fever with it. Some people get even sicker and have to be in the hospital. We should try to stay healthy by washing our hands a lot, eating well, and sleeping well. You know how we always tell you to wash your hands? This is one reason why. This germ can be given to people and make them sick if we are not all doing a good job of washing our hands, especially after we cough or sneeze or blow our nose. Things may be a little different right now and you may hear a lot of people talking about the coronavirus, but that’s because we want to know more about it and what we can do to stay healthy. We will try to talk about this as a family, and if you hear something that you don’t understand about this sickness, you can always ask us.”
Obviously this discussion will vary depending on the age and understanding of the child. One other thing to remember related to the last part of the sample speech above – as things will be different, many schools will have closures. Use this time to offer your kids creative opportunities to play. As tempting as it may be to turn on a TV or other screen to occupy their time out of school, try to brainstorm about other options to keep them busy. There are many sites online with age-appropriate school material (example, ABC coloring sheets, math problems, etc). Reading is such an important developmental skill and family interaction, so take the extra time at home to read some books to your child, and if they are old enough, let them practice reading to you. And don’t forget to take advantage of the nice weather with safe outdoor play!