During this unprecedented time, we want to provide parents with guidance on how to explain COVID-19 and school closures to their children at an age-appropriate level.
The best way to alleviate a child’s anxiety is by staying calm and reassuring. Provide children with truthful information about COVID-19, reinforce proper hygiene habits, and refrain from unkind words or assumptions about the virus. Please remind them that the adults in their life will keep them safe. Let children know that schools are closed so that they can receive nice healthy scrubbings and that children can have fun and learn at home, enjoying specially prepared learning activities, getting fresh air and exercise, and reading some great books.
In addition to the guildines recommended by the National Association of School Psychologists that are listed below, please check out the linked resources from the CDC, Child Mind Institute, The New York Times, and NPR. These links include wonderful information to help parents minimize their children’s anxiety and fears, as well as their own, by learning the facts about the virus and having open and accurate conversations about it.
Specific Guidelines from National Association of School Psychologists
Remain calm and reassuring.
- Children will react to and follow your verbal and nonverbal reactions.
- What you say and do about COVID-19, current prevention efforts, and related events can either increase or decrease your children’s anxiety.
- If true, emphasize to your children that they and your family are fine.
- Remind them that you and the adults at their school are there to keep them safe and healthy.
- Let your children talk about their feelings and help reframe their concerns into the appropriate perspective.
Make yourself available.
- Children may need extra attention from you and may want to talk about their concerns, fears, and questions.
- It is important that they know they have someone who will listen to them; make time for them.
- Tell them you love them and give them plenty of affection.
Avoid excessive blaming.
- When tensions are high, sometimes we try to blame someone.
- It is important to avoid stereotyping any one group of people as responsible for the virus.
- Bullying or negative comments made toward others should be stopped and reported to the school.
- Be aware of any comments that other adults are having around your family. You may have to explain what comments mean if they are different than the values that you have at home.
Monitor television viewing and social media.
- Limit television viewing or access to information on the Internet and through social media. Try to avoid watching or listening to information that might be upsetting when your children are present.
- Speak to your child about how many stories about COVID-19 on the Internet may be based on rumors and inaccurate information.
- Talk to your child about factual information of this disease—this can help reduce anxiety.
- Constantly watching updates on the status of COVID-19 can increase anxiety—avoid this.
- Be aware that developmentally inappropriate information (i.e., information designed for adults) can cause anxiety or confusion, particularly in young
- Engage your child in games or other interesting activities instead.
Maintain a normal routine to the extent possible.
- Keep to a regular schedule, as this can be reassuring and promotes physical health.
- Encourage your children to keep up with their schoolwork and extracurricular activities, but don’t push them if they seem overwhelmed.
Be honest and accurate.
- In the absence of factual information, children often imagine situations far worse than reality.
- Don’t ignore their concerns, but rather explain that at the present moment very few people in this country are sick with COVID-19.
- Children can be told this disease is thought to be spread between people who are in close contact with one another—when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
- It is also thought it can be spread when you touch an infected surface or object, which is why it is so important to protect yourself.
- For additional factual information contact your school nurse, ask your doctor, or check the https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html website.
Know the symptoms of COVID-19.
- The CDC believes these symptoms appear in a few days after being exposed to someone with the disease or as long as 14 days after exposure:
- Shortness for breath
- For some people the symptoms are like having a cold; for others they are quite severe or even life threatening. In either case it is important to check with your child’s healthcare provider (or yours) and follow instructions about staying home or away from public spaces to prevent the spread of the virus.