Children and teens have many questions about why and how Covid-19 is impacting their lives. Here are tips for how to give them answers that will put their minds at ease.
It's hard to believe how much our lives have changed during the past few weeks. The closing of schools, staying home, not seeing friends and family, and worries about getting sick are weighing heavily on the minds of our kids.
Children and teens will likely have many questions about the virus and what it means for them in the long term. Here are a few that we hear often, and what to say when you're asked.
Before speaking with your child or teen, it is important to make sure you're in a space to give them them your full attention. Do your best to remain calm, honest and reassuring, and share information that is age-appropriate. If you are feeling anxious or upset, give yourself time to handle your emotions before jumping in to answer questions.
Early elementary school children need brief, simple information that balances COVID-19 facts with assurances that their schools and homes are safe, and that adults will take care of them. It is also important to empower children to take action to keep themselves well, like washing their hands, and maintaining appropriate social distancing.
1. Will I get sick? Will my family get sick?
“We are doing everything that we can to keep you as safe, and as healthy as possible. Doctors and nurses are working extra hard to help people who do get sick to get better. We can do our part by washing our hands, eating healthy food, getting enough sleep and exercise, and taking time to play and relax.”
2. Why do I have to wash my hands and stay home if I’m not sick?
“We always wash our hands because it is one of the best ways that we know to keep ourselves and our family members safe and healthy. It can also help to stop the spread of the virus.”
3. Can I play on the playground?
“Right now, we can’t go to the playground because the virus can live on swings and slides, and we need to stay six feet away from other people to keep safe. But we can find other fun ways to play together.”
Upper elementary and early middle school children may be more vocal in asking questions about whether they truly are safe, and what will happen if COVID-19 affects their family or community. Provide them with concrete information, making sure to keep responses honest and factual.
1. How can I keep myself from getting Coronavirus?
“The best way that you can keep from getting Coronavirus is to practice safe personal distancing, and take good care of your health. That includes staying at home as much as possible, and talking with friends on the phone or using things like chats, texts, and video calls. You can also stay healthy by washing your hands often, eating and sleeping at regular times, keeping busy with schoolwork, and making time for fun activities and exercise.”
2. How long will school be closed?
“We don’t know when schools will open, but the more that we can do to stay healthy and safe, the sooner it may be that you can return. Your school wants to make sure that everyone will stay healthy when they open again. In the meantime, we can do schoolwork at home, and we will do all that we can to keep you in touch with your teachers and classmates.
3. Can I visit my grandparents?
“Right now, we need to stay away from your grandparents because the virus can be especially hard on older people. I know it is difficult not to see them, but keeping our distance can help them to be safe and stay healthy. We can still talk to them on the phone, or keep in touch in other ways.”
Upper middle school and high school students are able to discuss the issue in a more in-depth (adult-like) fashion, and can be referred directly to appropriate sources of COVID-19 facts such as state and local health authorities. Provide honest, accurate and factual information about the current status of COVID-19. Having such knowledge can help them feel a sense of control.
High school seniors are being uniquely affected by school closures. They may experience fear and anxiety about unfinished classes and assignments, unmet college admission requirements and paying tuition. These concerns may feel overwhelming and cause strong emotions in students and their families. Many seniors and their families feel they have “lost” some of the best parts of their senior year, and many end-of-year senior traditions and rites of passage remain in question.
1. What will happen to my high school education?
“We don’t have all of the answers about when and how you will return to school right now, but you school is working hard to support you in finishing your coursework and staying on track. We will do our best to help you in any way that we can. Let’s make a schedule so that you have time to do schoolwork, talk with your friends remotely, and still do activities that you enjoy. Let me know what I can do to help.”
2. I miss my friends and all of the things that I love to do. When will I be able to go out and live my life again?
“I know that you are experiencing a lot of emotions right now, and that is understandable. It is really hard to be away from friends, and to not be able to do all of the things that you enjoy. We are waiting to see what happens with the spread of the virus, and are listening to the recommendations of public health officials about when we can return to our regular routines. At this point, we’re not sure when that will happen, but this will not last forever. Let’s talk about what we can do now to make this situation as OK as possible.”
3. I hear a lot of confusing information about Covid-19 from my friends and on social media. Where can I get the best information about Covid-19?
“There is a lot of misinformation about Covid-19 on the internet, and a lot of rumors being spread. It is important to get information from reliable sources like the Centers for Disease Control, or our local public health department, and to not believe everything that we read online. You can always ask me about what you’re hearing, and we can decide together whether or not we think the information is trustworthy.”
For more information on Covid-19 see the Centers for Disease Control (CDC's) Covid-19 website.