How to talk to children about the coronavirus

Every news outlet seems to be talking nonstop about the new coronavirus, which is causing an illness called COVID-19. Many parents understandably are sharing concerns, too — at least among friends and families. Even at school, children are hearing about this new virus and registering that some adults seem worried.

Given all the discussion about this coronavirus, your children might have heard about it and have questions for you. Below are some tips on how to respond to their questions. (A separate post will address tips for talking with teens about the questions they might have.)

Provide just enough information about the new coronavirus

Try to strike a balance between answering questions well enough without fueling the flame of anxiety. Children have elaborate imaginations that may lead them to create unnecessarily catastrophic stories in their minds if parents do not talk at all, or enough, about a topic like this. At the other end of the spectrum, providing too much information may create extra alarm.

So what can you do? Think about what your child absolutely needs to know to understand what the virus is and what to do about it. If you have your own questions about the coronavirus, check reliable sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which offers a range of information about the virus. The World Health Organization’s myth busters page can help you give correct answers to some surprising questions and misinformation that is spreading.

Four questions children may have about the new coronavirus

Before you start, ask what your child knows so far in case you need to clarify anything, and find out what questions your child has. Below are four common questions your child might ask and suggested responses.

What is the new coronavirus? The new coronavirus is a kind of germ that can make people feel sick. Remember how the flu made (you/your classmate/anyone your child knows) feel? It can be a lot like getting the flu. Some people feel just a little bit sick. Some people get a fever and a cough. Sometimes, the cough can make it hard to breathe easily.

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