Speaking with Children and Teens

  • For tips on how to speak with children and teenagers about their fears regarding the coronavirus, resources are available on the National Association of School Psychologists website and on the Centers for Disease Control website.

    Upper middle school and high school students are able to discuss the issue in a more in-depth (adult-like) fashion and can be referred directly to appropriate sources of COVID-19 facts. Provide honest, accurate, and factual information about the current status of COVID-19. Having such knowledge can help them feel a sense of control.

    Remain calm and reassuring.

    • Children will react to and follow your verbal and nonverbal reactions.

    • What you say and do about COVID-19, current prevention efforts, and related events can either increase or decrease your children’s anxiety.

    • If true, emphasize to your children that they and your family are fine.

    • Remind them that you and the adults at their school are there to keep them safe and healthy.

    • Let your children talk about their feelings and help reframe their concerns into the appropriate perspective.

    Make yourself available.

    • Children may need extra attention from you and may want to talk about their concerns, fears, and questions.

    • It is important that they know they have someone who will listen to them; make time for them.

    • Tell them you love them and give them plenty of affection.

    Avoid excessive blaming.

    • When tensions are high, sometimes we try to blame someone.

    • It is important to avoid stereotyping any one group of people as responsible for the virus. 

    • Bullying or negative comments made toward others should be stopped and reported to the school.

    • Be aware of any comments that other adults are having around your family. You may have to explain what comments mean if they are different than the values that you have at home.

    Monitor television viewing and social media

    • Limit television viewing or access to information on the Internet and through social media. Try to avoid watching or listening to information that might be upsetting when your children are present.

    • Speak to your child about how many stories about COVID-19 on the Internet may be based on rumors and inaccurate information.

    • Talk to your child about factual information of this disease—this can help reduce anxiety.

    • Constantly watching updates on the status of COVID-19 can increase anxiety—avoid this.

    • Be aware that developmentally inappropriate information (i.e., information designed for adults) can cause anxiety or confusion.

    • Engage your child in games or other interesting activities instead.

    Maintain a normal routine to the extent possible.

    • Keep to a regular schedule, as this can be reassuring and promotes physical health.

    • Encourage your children to keep up with their schoolwork and extracurricular activities, but don’t push them if they seem overwhelmed.

    Be honest and accurate.

    • In the absence of factual information, children often imagine situations far worse than reality.

    • Don’t ignore their concerns, but rather explain that at the present moment very few people in this country are sick with COVID-19.

    • Children can be told this disease is thought to be spread between people who are in close contact with one another—when an infected person coughs or sneezes.  

    • It is also thought it can be spread when you touch an infected surface or object, which is why it is so important to protect yourself.

    • For additional factual information contact your school nurse, ask your doctor, or check the https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html website.

    Know the symptoms of COVID-19.

    • The CDC believes these symptoms appear in a few days after being exposed to someone with the disease or as long as 14 days after exposure:

      • Fever

      • Cough

      • Shortness for breath

      • For some people the symptoms are like having a cold; for others they are quite severe or even life threatening. In either case it is important to check with your child’s healthcare provider (or yours) and follow instructions about staying home or away from public spaces to prevent the spread of the virus.

    Review and model basic hygine and healthy lifestyle practices for protection.

    • Encourage your child to practice every day good hygiene—simple steps to prevent spread of illness:

      • Wash hands multiple times a day for at least 20 seconds (singing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star slowly takes about 20 seconds).

      • Cover their mouths with a tissue when they sneeze or cough and throw away the tissue immediately, or sneeze or cough into the bend of their elbow. Do not share food or drinks.

      • Practice giving fist or elbow bumps instead of handshakes. Fewer germs are spread this way.

    • Giving children guidance on what they can do to prevent infection gives them a greater sense of control over disease spread and will help to reduce their anxiety.

    • Encourage your child to eat a balanced diet, get enough sleep, and exercise regularly; this will help them develop a strong immune system to fight off illness.