While children may not understand the full scope of the COVID-19 pandemic, they do know that the world is different. In many cases, they left school in March or April to continue learning virtually — and many finished their school years from home. As schools welcome students back, your children may have concerns about going to school during the pandemic, why school looks different, and whether it’s safe for them and their families. They may worry about themselves, their family, and friends getting ill with COVID-19.
Here’s how you can help your children make sense of what they hear in a way that is honest, accurate, and minimizes anxiety or fear.
Talking to your children about going to school
1. Remain calm
Remember that children will react to both what you say and how you say it. They will pick up cues from the conversations you have with them and with others.
2. Provide reassurance that they are safe
Let them know it is okay if they feel upset. Share with them how you deal with your own stress so that they can learn how to cope from you.
3. Be available
Make yourself available to listen and to talk. Let children know they can come to you when they have questions.
4. Reduce stigma
Avoid language that might blame others and lead to stigma.
5. Monitor their media consumption
Pay attention to what children see or hear on television, radio, or online. Consider reducing the amount of screen time focused on COVID-19. Too much information on one topic can lead to anxiety.
6. Be truthful
Provide information that is truthful and appropriate for the age and developmental level of the child. Talk to children about how some stories about COVID-19 on the internet and social media may be based on rumors and inaccurate information. Children may misinterpret what they hear and can be frightened about something they do not understand.
7. Discuss how to protect yourself
Teach children everyday actions to reduce the spread of germs. Remind children to wash their hands frequently and stay away from people who are coughing, sneezing, or sick. Also, remind them to cough or sneeze into a tissue or their elbow, then throw the tissue into the trash. Talk about any new actions that are being taken at school to help protect children and school staff.
Talking to your children about COVID-19
Depending on the age if your children, they may not know much about COVID-19. Try to keep information simple and remind them that health and school officials are working hard to keep everyone safe and healthy.
Use these talking tips to explain the disease:
- COVID-19 is the short name for coronavirus disease 2019. It is a new virus. Scientists and doctors are still learning about it.
- Recently, this virus has made a lot of people sick. Scientists and doctors are trying to learn more so they can help people who get sick.
- Doctors and health experts are working hard to help people stay healthy.
Use these talking tips to explain what happens if someone gets sick with COVID-19:
- COVID-19 can look different in different people. For many people, being sick with COVID-19 would be a little bit like having the flu. People can get a fever or cough, or have a hard time taking deep breaths.
- Most people who have gotten COVID-19 have not gotten very sick.
- Only a small group of people who get it have had more serious problems.
- If you do get sick, it doesn’t mean you have COVID-19. People can get sick from all kinds of germs. What’s important to remember is that if you do get sick, the adults at home will help get you any assistance that you need.
Some children may have additional questions about the disease. It’s important that parents and other trusted adults – like a nanny – try to answer these questions instead of avoiding them.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID-19 website provides extensive information about COVID-19 that parents can use when talking to their children about the COVID-19 pandemic.
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