Supporting Children During Covid-19

20 March 2020

With all of the talk about the Coronavirus at the moment, our stress levels as a community are high. You cannot turn on the TV or radio without hearing the latest headlines about Coronavirus.

Our kids are not immune to this. They may hear stories on the news, or from their friends at school. This can be scary and confusing for them.

As adults, it can be hard to know how to keep our children feeling safe when there’s danger around them. We can’t just pretend it’s not happening, but what can we do or say that will actually help?

There are a lot of great resources around. It is important that these come from reputable sites, as there is also a lot of misinformation around. Be careful what you choose!

We have listed a few ideas below that we hope might be helpful:

  • Ask open questions and listen
    • Invite your child to talk about the issue. Find out how much they already know, and follow their lead. If they are particularly young and haven’t already heard about the outbreak, you may not need to raise the issue – just take the chance to remind them about good hygiene practices without introducing new fears. Make sure you are in a safe environment and allow your child to talk freely. Drawing, stories and other activities may help to open up a discussion. Most importantly, don’t minimize or avoid their concerns. Be sure to acknowledge their feelings and assure them that it’s natural to feel scared about these things. Demonstrate that you’re listening by giving them your full attention, and make sure they understand that they can talk to you and their teachers whenever they like
  • Be honest, and explain the truth in a child friendly way
    • Children have a right to truthful information about what’s going on in the world, but adults also have a responsibility to keep them safe from distress. Use age-appropriate language, watch their reactions, and be sensitive to their level of anxiety.
  • Show them how to protect themselves and their friends
    • One of the best ways to keep children safe from coronavirus and other diseases is to simply encourage regular handwashing. It doesn't need to be a scary conversation. Sing along with The Wiggles or make up a dance to make learning fun. You can also show children how to cover a cough or a sneeze with their elbow, explain that it’s best not to get too close to people who have those symptoms, and ask them to tell you if they start to feel like they have a fever, cough or are having difficulty breathing.
  • Offer reassurance
    • When we’re seeing lots of troubling images on TV or online, it can sometimes feel like the crisis is all around us. Children may not distinguish between images on screen and their own personal reality, and they may believe they’re in imminent danger. You can help your children cope with the stress by making opportunities for them to play and relax, when possible. Keep regular routines and schedules as much as possible, especially before they go to sleep, or help create new ones in a new environment.
    • If you are experiencing an outbreak in your area, remind your children that they are not likely to catch the disease, that most people who do have coronavirus don’t get very sick, and that lots of adults are working hard to keep your family safe. If your child does feel unwell, explain that they have to stay at home/at the hospital because it is safer for them and their friends. Reassure them that you know it is hard (maybe scary or even boring) at times, but that following the rules will help keep everyone safe.
  • Look after yourself
    • You’ll be able to help your kids better if you’re coping, too. Children will pick up on your own response to the news, so it helps them to know you’re calm and in control. If you’re feeling anxious or upset, take time for yourself and reach out to other family, friends and trusted people in your community. Make some time to do things that help you relax and recuperate.
  • Finish the conversation with care
    • It’s important to know that we’re not leaving children in a state of distress. As your conversation wraps up, try to gauge their level of anxiety by watching their body language, considering whether they’re using their usual tone of voice and watching their breathing.
    • Remind your children that they can have other difficult conversations with you at any time. Remind them that you care, you’re listening and that you’re available whenever they’re feeling worried.
  • Remember to make sure kids have the time to do the things they find fun. Here are some ideas for fun activities that may help kids with their worried feelings.
    • Turn off the news
    • Do some exercise like go for a walk or a bike ride
    • Do some mindfulness (you could use the smiling mind app)
    • Write in your journal
    • Clean your room
    • Listen to music
    • Listen to a podcast
    • Read a book
    • Watch a fun movie with the family
    • Play a board game
    • If you are worried, talk to someone about how you are feeling.


Credit: Unicef.