Explaining COVID-19 to Your Children and Helping Them Cope

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Maybe your baby is too little to remember lockdowns and the pandemic, or maybe you have older kids who are struggling with the challenges of staying home from school, not seeing friends, and missing extended family and other loved ones. Whatever the age of your child, this blog post will discuss some ideas about helping them cope with and understand COVID-19.

Your Baby and Coronavirus

Most babies and toddlers won’t remember this year, including the associated lockdowns and stress about the pandemic. But there are things that you can do to support your baby or toddler during this time. The most important thing is to take care of yourself. If you’ve just had a baby, it’s important to be diligent about your own postnatal care, so that you can stay well enough to care for your little one. That might be harder due to physical distancing and shut downs, but this blog post from The Pulse has good ideas about making it a priority.

Whether you’re a new parent or a more seasoned pro, it’s important to do your best to manage your own stress and anxiety. This blog post from The Pulse has some good ideas about how to do that. In a nutshell, try to limit your intake of information to the basics of what you need to know, and seek help if you need it.

Another key piece of managing stress is reaching out to your community. While virtual interactions may not feel as meaningful as in-person interactions would, they can help stave off loneliness and to normalize the things you’re feeling. Many cities and regions are now offering things like new parent and breastfeeding groups virtually, which is a great place to get support.

With your children, provide age-appropriate, evidence-based information and be available to have ongoing conversations and answer questions.

While you likely won’t talk a lot to your baby and toddler about coronavirus, it might feel good to explain a few basic things in a straightforward way. Even if your baby or toddler doesn’t understand everything, babies appreciate hearing adult language, and it helps their brains to develop properly.

Check out this blog post from The Pulse for ideas about entertaining your baby or toddler while you’re stuck at home. And this blog post has some suggestions for how to work from home if you’re without childcare during the pandemic. Finally, read this post for a pediatrician’s viewpoint on reading to your baby. Spoiler alert: it’s a particularly great idea now in these uncertain times.

Talking to Older Children About COVID-19

Depending on the age and maturity of your child, talking with him or her about coronavirus could look very different. I’ll offer some guidelines here, but you know your child best, so you—along with your partner if you have one—get to decide what is the best plan for your family.

On their website, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) gives a series of recommendations for speaking with children about the coronavirus. They include:

  • Children don’t need to see you panic. It’s important for you to stay calm while you speak to them, even if you need to fall apart later.
  • Do not minimize their feelings and fears, but reassure them that you are doing your best to keep them safe.
  • Teach them good hand-washing technique, about wearing a mask (if age appropriate), and other ways of slowing the spread of germs.
  • Limit their intake of media, especially on TV or YouTube, when you have not first previewed the content.
  • You might share that the coronavirus is a germ that can make people sick and let them know that the precautions that people are taking (wearing masks, staying home, washing hands) will help stop the virus from spreading.
  • Provide age-appropriate, evidence-based information and be available to have ongoing conversations and answer questions. More information than described above might be appropriate for older children, but it’s always best to start with the basics rather than overwhelming a child of any age with too much info. Let them ask the questions and provide truthful answers.
  • Reading books together is a great option for any age of child to aid in coping and understanding. There have been quite a few books released in the last few months specifically about the coronavirus, and a quick internet search will turn up plenty of options.
Abby Olena
Dr. Abby Olena has a PhD in Biological Sciences from Vanderbilt University. She lives with her husband and children in North Carolina, where she writes about science and parenting, produces a conversational podcast, and teaches prenatal yoga.

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