March 24, 2020

Talking to Children About COVID-19

A big question that is coming up during this time is how to talk to kids and teens about the coronavirus (COVID-19).

Kids and teens are likely experiencing some anxiety around the unknown, the implications and the plans. 

Because of this, it is recommended to do the following things: 

Have a conversation with your child.  

At this point in time, it is unavoidable that children will know of COVID-19. With children not in school, they likely have even more access to television and social media. Since most will hear parents, siblings, caregivers, media, friends, cousins and more talking about some aspect of the situation, it is recommended that parents or caregivers take time to speak with their children directly about COVID-19 at an age-appropriate level. 

Children and teens do better with information, so it’s best to be honest and upfront. A lot of big words are going around that they may or may not understand, such as “Coronavirus,” “quarantine,” “social distancing” and “self-isolation,’ not to mention “lay-offs” and “job losses.” It is important to talk with them about what these things mean for them and how they impact their lives.  

Provide (limited) information and reassure/validate how they are feeling. 

As a parent or caregiver, it’s important not to overshare all the scary details of COVID-19. Provide some information about how COVID-19 is really a big word for something similar to the flu. This is also a time to dispel myths or misinformation they might have heard. 

You will want to share limited details about how this impacts their lives. This can include how they won’t be returning to school at this time and how the family will stay at home to spend time together in an effort to keep others safe. Kids need reassurance. They look to adults for how they should react to things. Make sure you are talking to them when you are in a good headspace and not feeling high anxiety.  

You should also reassure them. Share with them that it is not impacting smaller children and adults as much, but how as a family you can help others by doing our part and staying home. They need to know they are safe and that you, as their parents, are safe too. 

Give them some power: Discuss positive planning and solutions. 

Talk about the plan and how to prepare for it. Set expectations of what their week will look like. For example: “We will stay home this week and spend time together as a family. You will get electronic time, time outside in our backyard, and time spent talking with family/friends on social media/FaceTime/etc.” 

Explain how as a family, you can help others by having good hand hygiene. Make up songs to help them learn how long to wash their hands and how to appropriately wash their hands.  

Check in with them regularly. 

As a parent and/or caregiver for children and teens, it is our job to filter the world for the child and provide reassurance! 

How we are communicating with young patients: 

At Eating Recovery Center, we are having conversations about COVID-19 with our patients. We are communicating with them about what Coronavirus is and what it is not, as well as having an open dialogue and a forum for them to ask questions.  

We are telling them about the precautions we are taking and how it is an effort to keep everyone safe and healthy. Teams are regularly checking in with the patients and their families as well to see if they have any questions and to validate and reassure them that we are taking all precautions that are recommended. Learn more about how ERC is responding to COVID-19

Leslee Marcom, PhD, is the Clinical Director at Eating Recovery Center of Dallas. 
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