What Are Some Developmentally Appropriate Ways to Discuss Coronavirus?

Second in our Blog series on the current situation with coronavirus (COVID-19) and your children with Dr. Robin Gurwitch, Ph.D., a psychologist and professor at Duke University Medical Center.

First of all, it’s important to validate your child’s feelings. Gurwitch says to ask yourself: “Has it ever worked for you when someone says, ‘Don’t feel that way?’ ”

“When a child/teen shares their feelings or thoughts, reflect their statements back to them,” Gurwitch advises. “This lets them know they are heard and assures that you understood them.” For example, if your child tells you that they are scared, you can say something like, “I know it is a little scary. Sometimes I get a little worried too, but here is how we are going to keep ourselves as healthy as we can so that we can be okay.”

When you do this, be sure that you are staying calm and providing a sense of ability to cope with the current situation. Providing your child with a sense of security, optimism and confidence will help your child feel the same.

Next, talk to your child about actions that are being done in your community, state and country. Make sure that you are keeping this language age-appropriate.

For young children, Gurwitch advises saying something along the lines of: “Everybody in (city, state) is working very hard to be sure we are as healthy as we can be. That is why we are staying home. When we stay home, it gives everybody a chance to be sure our schools/childcare settings can be cleaned. It also gives us time to be sure we are doing everything in our family to stay healthy.”

Then, tell your child what your family is going to do to stay healthy.

Tell your child that you are going to be washing your hands with soap and water (and maybe even singing while you do it), showing them how you will sanitize surfaces and keep the house clean to keep the family as healthy as possible. Here’s some language Dr. Gurwitch suggests:

“We can do lots of things to keep our family as healthy/well as possible. We need to wash our hands with soap and water to be sure we wash any germs away. When we wash our hands, we can sing ‘Happy Birthday’ two times. That will get rid of any germs. I will be sure to wipe things that can have germs, so we can be even more healthy. When we sneeze or cough, we cover our noses and mouth. We can also sneeze into our elbows.”

Make sure that you are encouraging your child as they use good hygiene and demonstrating these behaviors for your child.

Finally, encourage your child to ask questions.

Letting your child know that your initial conversation is not the last time you will be talking about COVID-19 and opening the floor to conversation down the line is essential as children try to wrap their head around the situation. Gurwitch suggests ending the conversation by saying, “If you have any questions about this virus or what we are doing, I am here to talk to you anytime you need me.”

Let us help at Growing Child Pediatrics if you are having any problems with your child.

David A. Katz, DO FAAP IFMCP