How you explain Covid-19 to your children will depend largely on their age and level of understanding; some may already know and understand more than others, some may be rather concerned and need reassurance more than anything and some may be entirely unaware. The key to explaining this difficult situation is to be open, understanding, reassuring and most importantly honest.

The news, TV programmes, social media and general conversations are saturated with discussions of Covid-19 therefore it is likely your children have heard it being mentioned. Especially now most children are home from school it is important they are aware of exactly why. Some may be entirely aware of what it is and what it means whereas others may be largely unaware; either way it is important to discuss this with your children and reassure them as there is also a lot of misinformation being shared online; which for older children could be a concern.

Some Things to Consider Before Explaining Covid-19 to Your Children

Their Age

Keep in mind that the youngest of children probably won’t know or understand what’s going on and they may not need to however the older they are the more you may need to talk through with them. For younger children, simply talking through the new illness may be enough however for older children you may need to dispel rumours or false information they might have heard as well.

What They Already Know

Start by finding out exactly what your children already know. Again, exactly how you go about this will depend on their age and understanding. With younger children it might be best to ask them if they’ve heard of a new sickness or illness, whereas with older children you can ask them specifically if they have heard people in school talking about coronavirus or covid-19 and further ask what they are saying and exactly how much they know. This way you can decipher whether they are hearing false information.

Be Honest and Share the Facts with Them

The most important thing to remember is to be honest; as mentioned, there is a lot of false information circulating online, especially on social media which your teen may be seeing. If you child isn’t interested in the discussion, that is fine but if they are make sure you are as truthful as possible.

Start with the facts about what the virus is and how it is going to affect people as well as the impact it is going to have on everyday life.

How the Virus Spreads

The virus is new and therefore not much is known about exactly how it is spread, but what is known is that it spreads quickly and can be very contagious. Based on how other virus’ spread it is believed it is spread through contact and may also be airborne. Based on this, the government and NHS are advising people to stay inside and wash their hands with soap and water frequently for at least 20 seconds and not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean.

The Symptoms

Whilst there are many potential symptoms of Covid-19, there are a few which are most commonly identified and therefore should be the main ones to be aware of and to make your children aware of.

  • A high temperature – you don’t need to take your temperature if you don’t have a thermometer, you will feel hot to touch on your chest or back.
  • A new, continuous cough

The above two symptoms are the most common, however other symptoms can include:

  • Shortness of Breath
  • Aches and Pains
  • Tiredness

As the virus is knew, full symptoms are not yet known however if you have any of the most common symptoms, NHS England are advising you to self-isolate.

It is important to make children aware of the symptoms, should they experience any of them, however it is also important to reassure them not to worry.

How Life is Going to Change

As much as the virus itself can be concerning for children, the implications on daily life may be the most notable change for them. Especially if they are younger and don’t fully understand what is happening in the news and media. Currently the UK government is instructing everyone to stay inside aside from 1 form of exercise per day, essential travel for supplies such as food, and essential workers travelling to work. For children this means they won’t be attending school, unless their parents are key workers, and instead they will be at home with parents who may also be working from home. Whilst at first this may seem like more of a holiday to them, over time they may begin to question why they can’t go to school, play out and see their friends.

Explain to them how important it is to stay indoors to protect people from the virus and keep everyone safe. The UK government has full guidelines on children and covid-19 as well as key information on the importance of staying home.

Questions Children May Have About Covid-19

Children are generally quite curious so will likely have questions, make sure to answer them as honestly and as best you can. Be open when you don’t know the answer and instead see if you can find out; using government and NHS sources you will probably be able to find the correct answer.

Common Questions

Q: How do you know if you have the virus?

A: Most people experience cold or flu like symptoms; but, mainly a cough and a fever. You may also feel achy and tired. Most children appear to get mild symptoms.

Q: Who can catch the virus?

A: Anyone can catch the virus and it is spread through close contact with those who have it already so it is important to wash your hands more often and stay in your home.

Q: Am I going to get sick?

A: Even children who catch the virus don’t seem to experience bad symptoms, you may feel unwell like when you have a cold or flu and you will want to stay in bed and get rest. But, we will take care of you and make sure you have medicine to feel better.

Q: What happens if you get sick?

A: If I get sick, I will do the same, I might need to stay in bed for some days and I might have to see a doctor for a test. But family can take care of you and depending on how I am I should be at home, just resting.

Q: Why can’t I go to school or see my friends?

A: The schools have closed so that less people get sick. If we all stay inside it helps stop the virus spreading and then the doctors can help the poorly people in the hospital. We have to stay in the house to help the doctors help the sick people.

Q: Are my grandparents going to be ok?

A: As with some other illnesses like the flu, older people might get sicker than younger people but the doctors and nurses in the hospital are doing their best to help everybody get better and we are all staying at home to protect the older people and those with health problems. Depending on your child’s age and understanding of the situation you may need to adjust the answers, and they may have different questions but as long as you stick to the facts and be as honest and reassuring as possible you will have everything you need to explain.

Protecting the Mental Health of Children and Teenagers During Covid-19

Offer Comfort and Reassurance

Make sure when discussing the virus, you speak calmly as children can pick up when their parents are worried. Explain to them the symptoms but reassure them most people who get sick will feel like they have the flu or a cold. Reassure them that they don’t need to worry but do explain the symptoms to them as best as possible. Give them space to air their concern; they will likely be concerned about getting sick but reassure them kids don’t seem to get as sick and talk about their fears openly.

Also reassure your children that if they are worried, or scared about any aspect of the virus; from the symptoms to the effects it is having on daily routines, they can talk to you about it and you will comfort them.

Be Aware of Online Information

Use trusted online sources when explaining the virus to children. Older children who have access to the internet may have already come across false information, so it is important you find out if this is the case. Unfortunately, there is a plethora of false or misinformation online and on social media so it is essential to find out what they may have seen and dispel any myths which may be circulating. Make sure you inform them about the likelihood of false information spreading online and assure them they can come to you with questions about this.

Teach Them Ways to Feel in Control

In times like this we can all feel a little out of control, and it can be the same for children. Teach them some things they can be doing to feel a little more in control. Explain what they need to do to stay strong and healthy such as eating well, exercising and getting enough sleep. In addition to this talk to them about washing their hands as a means of keeping germs at bay. Let them know its ok to feel stressed and worried but make sure to reassure them that these feelings will pass and they can talk about their feelings opening.

Assure them that medical staff are looking after those who are sick, and it can even be reassuring for teenagers to know what scientists are doing to combat the disease as well.

Keep Checking In

Make sure to keep checking in with your children about how they are feeling, keep them updated so they don’t worry and let them watch the news with you if they wish so then you can be sure they are getting the right information and you can filter what they hear and explain developments to them properly as they occur. It can be a stressful time for all, but with a little reassurance and comfort we can ensure children feel secure yet aware of the current circumstances.

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