How to talk to children about coronavirus

Attendance at all three Sunday services was down by about 25% on March 15 at the Cathedral of Saint Mary Catholic Church as worshipers react to the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. Holy water, sharing on the “sign of peace,” and the serving of the “Blood of Christ” were all absent as South Florida tried to mitigate and reduce the spread of the deadly virus.


MIAMI – Was your child looking forward to a sports tournament only for it to be canceled by concern over the novel coronavirus?

Does your child keep asking about after-school activities and field trips?

How about tough questions including whether a loved one is going to get sick?

As parents or guardians, many adults are being faced with the difficult task of explaining what COVID-19 is and why leaders are canceling public events to children.

Experts say the key is to speak on the child’s level and be open and honest.

“When we hide things from our kids they tend to get more anxious,” said Dr. Danette Beitra, a pediatric psychologist at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital near South Miami. “Children feed off our own anxieties, so it’s important to model healthy behaviors.”

Keep them apprised

Dr. Alan Delamater, director of clinical psychology at the Mailman Center for Child Development and professor of Pediatrics and Psychology at the University of Miami, said “it is imperative to talk to children about what is going on.

“The information they are getting may be distorted,” Delameter said. “Parents should ask them what they know. I think parents have a responsibility to make sure their kids have accurate information.”

And while practices, parties and other activities are being canceled, Beitra and Delameter said keeping to as much of a routine as possible is critical.

More tips

For those children who tend to be more anxious, Beitra said switching the conversation and focusing on what they can control — including washing hands and staying home if sick — can help.

“It’s the unknown that gets them anxious,” she said.

Tips to speaking to children about the coronavirus from the CDC:

It’s important for adults to remain calm and reassuring.

Allow your children to ask questions and talk about their feelings and concerns.

Monitor the information your child is seeing in the media and on the internet.

Focus on the things you can control including to reducing the risk of the spread by proper hygiene.

Avoid language that blames someone for the spread.


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