How exactly do we talk to small children about Covid-19? How do we explain why they can’t go to kindergarten or to the park or to visit their grandparents?
As parents, caregivers and teachers, we wish that we could shield our preschoolers from the global health crisis caused by the coronavirus. However, if we do not talk about Covid-19 to our children, it is likely that they will hear it from somewhere else.
And hearing from the wrong sources could often lead to COVID related anxiety for these tiny tots.
Thus, it is important to address Covid-19 as well as their questions and concerns about it.
Tips for talking with young children about COVID-19
It’s most likely that your preschooler has already heard about Covid-19 and chances are, he or she is wondering about it. Here’s how you can balance information and reassurance as you talk to young children about the pandemic.
1. Keep explanations age appropriate
Provide brief, simple explanations about Covid-19 for your preschooler. Try to give information gradually so that he or she is able to process what you’re trying to explain.
Offer them information on a need to know basis and try not to overload them with more details than needed. Remember to balance the facts with appropriate reassurances.
2. Welcome their questions
With so many unknowns, your preschooler is bound to have some questions.
These may be serious questions like ‘Will grandpa be okay?’ or seemingly silly questions like ‘Does this mean I’ll be on holiday forever?’
In fact, your preschooler may ask the same question over and over again.
No matter what the question, it’s best to take your child’s concerns seriously. Welcome their questions and provide simple fact based answers. Calm their fears and worries with appropriate reassurances.
3. Offer comfort and honesty
Honesty is the best policy. However, that doesn’t mean that you have to overwhelm your child with too much information. Don’t offer more details than your child is interested in.
So what qualifies the need to know information for your child? Most likely your preschooler’s questions will be related to his in the moment reality.
For example, questions such as why he can’t go to school? Why can’t he go to the park? Or why he has to stay home will most probably be asked.
If your child happens to ask something about Covid-19 that you don’t have the answer to, say so. You can take the opportunity to find the answer together. Do remember to go to reliable websites to prevent misinformation.
4. Help them to feel in control
Talk to your child about ways that he or she can stay safe during the pandemic. Teach them about hand washing, personal hygiene, social distancing and healthy habits that can help them to stay strong.
Empowering your child with specific things that he or she can do will help them to feel in control of their own situation, even as the pandemic has made many things uncertain.
5. Keep the conversation going
Allow your child to lead the conversation on Covid-19 and give them space to share their fears. It is not unusual for children to worry, but more importantly your small child needs to know that they can come to you to talk about scary stuff.
Be aware of how your child feels, reassure them and address all their concerns about the pandemic.
6. Speak calmly
Use a calm voice when you talk about Covid-19. Even small children can pick up your fears and worries so try to regulate your emotions when you are communicating with your preschooler.
Facts about Covid-19 to discuss with young children
You can share simple facts about Covid-19 such as:
What is Covid-19?
Defining Covid-19 will help your child to better understand the global pandemic.
To put it simply, Covid-19 is caused by a virus that makes people sick. You may have a fever, cough and trouble breathing if you become sick with Covid-19. Some people who have the virus may not feel sick at all, or have mild symptoms like a cold.
How does it spread?
Explain how the virus spreads.
The most common way Covid-19 spreads is when the virus enters into people’s bodies through their hands or when they touch their eyes, nose or mouths. This is why it is very important to wash your hands and keep from touching your face.
You can also get infected with the virus when someone who has it sneezes or coughs on you at a close distance. This is why masking in public and social distancing can help prevent the virus from spreading.
What is being done about the virus?
Talk to your child about what is being done to overcome the virus.
Covid-19 is a new illness and that’s why we’re hearing about it so much. Many people do not know what to do. However, experts and doctors around the world are working hard to learn about it.
Vaccines are being developed and rolled out to keep people safe from Covid-19.
Discuss how your child can stay safe
Even though preschoolers may not understand the gravity of the pandemic, you should still discuss ways that they can stay safe during this season. Having an idea of what to do to keep the virus at bay will help them feel safe and less anxious.
Demonstrate effective hand-washing
Show your child how to wash their hands properly by rubbing their hands together to form soap bubbles. Make sure to rub in between fingers and all the way to the fingertips.
As proper hand washing should take about 20 seconds, you can have them sing the Happy Birthday song twice to ensure that their hands are as clean as possible
Remind them that hands should be washed if they have gone outside, before meals and after sneezing or coughing.
Stay at home
Staying at home can be exciting and seem like a holiday in the beginning. However, being cooped up for long periods of time can take its toll. Explain to your child that staying at home and how switching to online learning will help to prevent the spread of Covid-19, in addition to keeping them safe.
Yes, even preschool children are able to understand social distancing if it is explained properly to them.
For younger children, you could ask them to pretend that there is a bicycle between them and the other person to keep the distance. Encourage them to replace high fives with fist bumps and wave hello instead of hugging, even if the other person does not seem to be sick.
Using masks when outside
Face masks go a long way in preventing the virus from spreading. Show your child how to put on masks properly as well as the correct technique to take them off. Remind them to put it on when they are outside, or when there are other people around.
Preschoolers love to help if given the opportunity. Get them to assist you in sanitizing frequently touched items and surfaces around the house.
Talk to them about how a healthy, well balanced diet will help in keeping their immune system strong and help them fight germs and viruses. You could also take the chance to explain how physical activities and good night’s sleep will also help to keep them strong and healthy.
Be aware of your child’s mental health
Most children will manage the pandemic season well when there is care and support, even if they are sometimes anxious about what’s going on.
However, some children may have more intense reactions, including severe anxiety.
Risk factors for this include family instability, abuse and the loss of a loved one, especially if it is due to Covid-19.
Seek professional if you notice your preschooler is exhibiting the following symptoms for more than 2 weeks:
- Separation anxiety & clinging to parents/caregivers
- Sleep disturbances – trouble falling asleep, staying asleep and nightmares
- Loss of appetite
- Fear of the dark
- Regression in behavior
It is important to be aware of your child’s mental health during the pandemic so that you can intervene early if needed.
It can be hard for young children to fully understand the magnitude of the pandemic. They may feel worried or anxious and not know how to express themselves.
Talking to them about Covid-19 with age appropriate information and reassurance will help them through this season. If your child is heading back to school soon, check out our Covid-19 Preschool FAQ for a back to school checklist that will help keep your child safe