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Tips for talking to children about Covid-19

Kristen Anderson, Waterloo, ON

“Coronavirus”–a word that only a few months ago we had never even heard. Now it is almost all we talk about. Our lives have been disrupted in ways we could never have anticipated and the situation changes so rapidly it is difficult to keep up…or plan.

As parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends…how do we talk with the children and teens in our lives to help them make sense of everything happening? 

How can we listen without interrupting? Without telling them not to feel afraid or worried? Particularly if we are afraid or worried ourselves?

They are tough conversations to have but they are also very important ones.

Although I have been concerned and worried about this issue, as has my daughter, I assumed my teen boys would just be relieved not to have to attend school. While the latter part is true, they also do have worries I realized this morning. I mentioned to one of them that I had a sore stomach and I saw the expression on his face change immediately as he said “well, that’s not a symptom right?” This from the guy whose only mention of the virus previously was when he was sharing memes with me. The point being, kids express their concern and worry in a myriad of ways.


Here are a few tips for how to talk with our kids when things are scary:


Make time to talk.

Make time for talking, if you can. However, we all know that kids don’t talk on our schedule, they talk on their own. So this means being available when they are ready to talk. Sometimes, that’s tricky to figure out or to make happen. Try the small moments, like when you are playing together or out for a walk together. I find in the car is best with teens. Be sure children know they can come to you when they have questions or want to talk.

Be curious and interested in what they are thinking and feeling.

Kids know some information already. Precautions were put into place at school and now school has been cancelled. Kids talk with each other. Older kids are going to see everything that we see online, in social media, on TV. Talk to kids about how some stories on COVID-19 online may be based on rumours and inaccurate information. If you don’t know the answers, that’s ok! This situation may be especially difficult because there are few definitive answers at the moment.

Ask questions—what have you heard? What are you thinking about it? How are you feeling about it all? Ask their opinion about what they are hearing—What do you think about what is being said on social media? In the news? Answer questions too, if they ask. Try to answer honestly and simply. Provide information that is honest, accurate and age-appropriate. Keep your answer to the question asked as, often, children are satisfied with one piece of the picture. Too much information can be overwhelming, particularly for younger children. Older children and teens may enjoy talking more about the situation. They will have opinions! It is important to take some time to listen to what they are thinking and help them make sense of what they are thinking or believing. 

Try to “read” your child during the conversation and follow their lead.

Maybe your child will just want to say one thing and be done. Maybe they will want to talk now, maybe later. Don’t be afraid to bring it up and ask what they have been thinking but also don’t worry if they don’t want to talk. It is important to give them their space and let them express themselves in their own ways. Kids deal with their emotions in very different ways.

Honour and respect their ways of expressing themselves.

Children sometimes draw what they are thinking and feeling. Help your child to talk about the drawing, what they were thinking as they drew it. If they don’t want to talk, that’s ok. Just thank them for sharing the picture with you and invite them to talk anytime they would like. Be curious about what they are playing, whether with their toys or online and join in, if you can. Don’t forget too that a lot of kids are loving this time at home!

Show empathy and understanding. 

For any of us, when we feel truly heard and understood, we feel naturally better. Brene Brown tells us that “empathy fuels connection” and we know that connection with someone we love and trust, makes the world feel safer and our distress more manageable. Simple comments such as “I can see that you are feeling worried about this” or “I understand all these changes can feel scary” are very powerful messages of love and support. 

Ask if there is any way you can help.

Or if there is anything they would like to do with you, as part of dealing with their feelings. Some people are mobilizing to help seniors or people with limited mobility to get the supplies they need. Others are starting neighbourhood email groups to help share information and assist each other. Talk as a family about things you may be able to do to help without risking your own health or anyone else’s. These actions bring a sense of community, of connection to others beyond ourselves. Connection helps us feel loved and safe.

Don’t forget about the power of just having fun together! While we are all at home is a great time to roll out the board games, go for walks together, find time for the things that bring you joy.

Be aware of our own feelings and reactions to the situation.

As parents, and grandparents, we may be frightened of getting sick ourselves, or our loved ones getting ill.  We can’t hide these feelings from our children. It’s ok for them to know we may be concerned. The trick is to be sure our feelings do not become the focus of our conversations with our children. Also, let your child know what you are doing to handle your feelings…..taking deep breaths, talking with a friend, snuggling on the couch, finding fun things to do….

Seek outside help, when needed.

Talking with a counsellor or a trusted friend can make a big difference. Your children may not want to do this, but you can. And, when you talk with a counsellor or friend, your feelings can very much be the focus. We all need this, sometimes! 

Reach out to us at Parenting Now. We are still available to respond to emails and comments. Please post a comment on this article or click the “click to connect” button on this page and send us an email. We will respond!

Be kind to yourself.

It is hard to get these conversations right. Especially when we have our own fears.

Loss and tragedy. Sadness. Fear. They’re real emotions and real experiences and when we have the chance to talk about our thoughts and feelings surrounding these kinds of events, we can begin to make sense of what we are feeling. It does not make them go away or make things “better”. But it does help us feel connected. That’s true, no matter how old we are.


Reach out. We are in this together!


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16 Responses to “Tips for talking to children about Covid-19”

  1. Wendy McGregor says:

    This is a great article, I’m a grand parent and had 5 kids last week. They are hearing so much talk of this and experiencing their own feelings. I’ve shared this on FB to help anyone who has kids of any age. Thank you for posting this

  2. Melodie says:

    Sally those have been my thoughts too – trying to let them know gently why we are at home and not at school, but not scaring them either. We have lots of grandparents/older people in our lives whom we’re close to and I don’t want them to think that they will automatically get sick, and then pass away.

  3. Melodie says:

    Great tips! It hasn’t come up a whole lot in our family, but I know they are very aware of what’s going on and why. One thing we’ve tried to avoid is scaring them – 1 of our guys is really sensitive so we’re careful about talking about it. Not glossing over and making it sound like it isn’t a big problem or a big deal, but trying not so share too much that he doesn’t need to know right now. He’s pretty content to just be at home anyways so he hasn’t thought too much why right now.

  4. Beth says:

    What a helpful and well-timed article, Kristen. I agree that sharing one piece of information with some children can be enough for them. My reaction when asked these serious questions is to say too much sometimes, so this is a great reminder, thank you! Hope you all are doing well and staying safe.

  5. diane says:

    Thanks, Nadia! A great example of talking while playing.

  6. Maryanne Paul says:

    They know so much more than we sometimes give them credit for. Everyone is coming together.

  7. Victoria Lynn says:

    Great article we are living in uncertain times and it’s something we have not dealt with before.

  8. Omkalthoum says:

    Thank you Kristen for this timely article. These tips are really what we need during this emotional and confusing time. My children are all adults and three of them live on their own, working from home so they also need my parenting support.

  9. Teresa Wikkerink says:

    I really like these reminders and tips of how best to talk to our kids about tough issues. Showing we care, reaching out to our kids/teens/adult kids and grandkids in a way that makes sense to them and at the same time being very real can be so helpful. I like how you said to answer their questions but not to get into so much detail especially when they are young and to follow their lead when they are ready to talk and express their feelings.

  10. Nadia says:

    Thanks for the great tips, Kristen. We are spending more time together as a family these days. My kids would talk about the COVID 19 situation while we play board games or cards. They talk about what they have learned through media or social media. I think it will be a great way to distinguish between facts and opinions.

  11. diane says:

    Good suggestion, Maggie. It is times like this that can really bring us all together.

  12. diane says:

    Wow, that is so amazing! and so creative.

  13. diane says:

    So true, Sally! It is really hard to communicate how important these strategies are without frightening our kids.

  14. Sally says:

    I’ve found it difficult to convey the seriousness of social distancing and remaining home as much as possible without scaring my youngest child.

  15. Sally says:

    It has been nice connecting with my neighbours now more than I have in the past. One neighbour has gone for supplies and offers to pick up items for others and leaves them on our porch. Limits the number of us going into the store. Our kids have decided to play battleship together by using FaceTime.

  16. Wow – Thank you Kristen for these gentle reminders and tips! Hang in there everyone and please ask your friends and neighbours if they need anything.

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