It’s important to talk to kids about difficult issues, like the coronavirus. Here are some tips for discussion.

Mother holding young daughter with face masks on, talking about coronavirusShare on Pinterest
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As a parent, there are certain topics, such as sex, drugs, death, or upsetting events in the news, that you’ll have to discuss with your kids at some point that may be challenging. Now, it looks like the coronavirus is staying on that list.

It might be tempting to put these conversations off, but sooner or later, these matters will come up at school, on the playground, or in exchanges they overhear. Children can feel confused or anxious when their parents avoid certain conversations rather than talking with them directly.

This is especially true for COVID-19, which has changed our lives in many ways. A 2021 review of studies, for example, found that depression and anxiety symptoms in kids and teens doubled in the first year of the pandemic.

Talking about the coronavirus can be challenging, even as an adult — but when you do, you can help your kids feel heard, included, and less anxious.

However, setting the tone of the conversation starts with you. For example, if you’re anxious, they’ll pick up on that.

“Check in with yourself first and speak in a calm and even tone of voice,” recommends licensed clinical social worker Alexandra Finkel, a child and family therapist who focuses on supporting families through illness, anxiety, grief, and loss.

In addition, she says, aim for clear, simple words.

“Young children think concretely and cannot extrapolate, so try to avoid the use of euphemisms and vagueness,” she continues. You can “be honest and direct,” she adds.

Then allow time for questions and processing.

“All children process and react differently [so] it’s OK if your child doesn’t want to talk about it yet,” says Finkel.

But they might come back and ask questions later. Letting them know that you’re always there if they want to talk can help them feel more comfortable in sharing their thoughts and questions.

If you don’t know the answer to one of their questions, it’s OK to tell them that too.

Finkel emphasizes that it can be beneficial to “make sure they know that being upset, frustrated, angry, or disappointed are all valid ways to feel.”

Still not sure how to start the conversation? Here are some ideas for what you could discuss:

1. Explain why we’re talking about the coronavirus more right now

Most kids are familiar with COVID-19 by now, but the new variants have led to a lot of new headlines that can be concerning for children. Consider helping them understand the change.

You could say

“You may have noticed that it seems like a lot is changing and people are talking about COVID-19 more and more again.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, there were a lot of people with coronavirus, then that number became less, but now more people have coronavirus again.

“That means that activities, parties, and even school may have to look different in the coming weeks.”

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2. Talk about how they can protect themselves

Talking about all the ways they can try to stay healthy can be reassuring for children.

You could say

“Some germs and illnesses go from person to person more easily and faster than others, kind of like the game tag.

“When germs tag people quicker and faster, the germ is considered more contagious. If we all do healthy things, we can slow down the germ tag.

“That’s why it’s really important to:

  • wash your hands
  • wear your mask
  • cover your coughs and sneezes
  • get your vaccination shots on time
  • practice social distancing
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3. Validate their frustrations

School closures, outbreaks with extracurricular teams, and canceled playdates can bring on feelings of disappointment. But by listening and explaining as your children share, you can help them cope with their big emotions and learn to adapt to the pandemic’s uncertainty.

You could say

“Right now, the coronavirus is spreading very fast and easily. This is why school was canceled or ___’s birthday party was postponed.

“It’s really hard to not be able to do the things we want to do and look forward to doing. It’s OK to be upset about this, and I’ll be here to listen.”

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4. Let them express their feelings through play

“Play is a child’s natural language and where they learn, process, communicate, and cope with hard emotions,” explains Finkel.

A helpful activity

“If you notice your child is dealing with a lot of anxiety, consider having them make a worry monster,” says Finkel.

“They can write down their worry onto a piece of paper, then feed it to their monster. Then once the monster has eaten it, they can come to you and talk about that worry when they’re ready.”

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Bonus tip:

As we’re talking and listening to our kids more closely, monitoring their behaviors for childhood symptoms of depression or anxiety can be a sound idea.

The pandemic is a tough topic to talk about, but talking to kids about it can be important in helping them understand what’s happening and perhaps feel less afraid.

Being clear and honest, using simple words, answering their questions, and allowing them time to process and play can help them feel heard, safe, and less anxious.