How to Talk to Your Young Kids About the Coronavirus

Big emotions are definitely rising in our world with the news of COVID-19. When word first started to break internationally about the virus, it was definitely easier to shield our children from “the news.” Now that schools are closed and daily lives are disrupted, it needs to be addressed. Instead of feeding into fear and panic, I’ve outlined some of the ways I’ve talked with my young (four, almost five year old) daughter about the Coronavirus.

 

Understanding how a virus works:

We first started talking about Coronavirus when we were flying out to our Colorado ski trip in early March. I am not a “germaphobe” mom, and I generally am in the camp: let them be and wash their hands (because exposure to bacteria is really really good for our children). But this trip was a little different. I caught myself saying, “Don’t touch that” or “let me wipe that down first.”

Of course, Harper asked why. And really she has every right to wonder: Why is it different now? Why have your actions changed?

So I told her.

I simply explained that there is a virus going around that will make people very sick. And even though we will be fine and we will recover quickly, other people might not be so fortunate. So we need to be extra careful with our own germs … and not get any new germs if we can help it.

She remembered when we got the {horrible} Norovirus a few months ago and asked if it was the same. I told her it was similar, but this new virus is, well, new. And doctors don’t exactly know how to take care of people that have it yet.

As with anything I teach Harper, I try to make it relatable and on her level, so she understands. She had a few more questions, and I answered them simply and honestly.

Resources about the Coronavirus for kids:  

 

Empathy for others:

We started socially distancing before it was required, and the reason is most definitely for the health of others. We want to do our part to help flatten the curve. Though Harper isn’t currently in the “why” stage anymore (asking 1 million questions nonstop), she does ask a LOT of questions. And when we started to skip the Aquarium or the Children’s Museum, she noticed.

“Is it because of the virus?”

Im always honest with her. “Yes, it is.”

And I referenced the people in ours lives who are elderly, susceptible to chest colds, who have weakened immune systems. That’s when the lightbulb clicked.

Along those same lines, we talk about what it means if school is cancelled or if we’re quarantined (people not able to work, kids not able to eat at school, etc). So she’s been overhearing my calls to elderly neighbors to check in on them and helping me grab a few extra things at the grocery stores for the local blessing box.

I’m showing her that it’s not just about us; it’s about our community as well.


Good Hygiene:

Since Harper was barely toddling around, we started the conversation about good hygiene and washing hands. When Harper was potty training, we placed a bottle of Thieves hand sanitizer (the only kind we use), and she learned to take a pump every time she went potty. As she got older, that moved to hand washing with a stool at the sink after using the restroom AND after blowing her nose, before snacks and meals, before helping making dinner, when coming home for the day, after a friend leaves, etc.

Now that the world has re-learned how to wash their hands and the message is seemingly everywhere, we definitely talk about it more too. To make it fun, we sing songs when we wash our hands (Happy Birthday or the ABCs), have a contest to see who can make the biggest suds, and who can get their hands the cleanest. Oh, and I still remind her almost every time.

Her preschool taught her to cough in her elbow, which she has taken to very well. And thanks to a recent bout with pink eye, she knows firsthand why we don’t touch our nose and then our eyes. Sometimes firsthand experience is golden, right?!

 

Some great resources if you’re needing help teaching good hygiene habits to your littles: 

Daniel Tiger episode where his mom gets sick AND he has a cold too

Step by step handwashing with Elmo

Germs Germs Go Away Handwashing Song

ABC Scrub With Me Activity

Germs Are Not For Sharing Board Book

Elmo and Rosita and the Right Way to Sneeze Video

 

Healthy lifestyle choices: 

The concept of healthy choices is big in our family, and Harper has been raised with that in mind from the beginning. Does that mean we don’t enjoy treats, sweets and food that’s not so great for us? Of course not!! But I am very mindful about how I talk with her about food in particular.

Flat lay of avocados on a cutting board Instead of saying certain foods are “bad,” we talk about what the food does for our bodies. For example, a piece of candy has sugar, which gives us a quick burst of energy, but it doesn’t do much else for us. And if we have too much candy, it’ll make our tummies hurt and maybe get us sick. BUT carrots have lots of vitamin A, vitamin K and fiber and help make our eyes super strong.

This way of talking about food helps Harper logically choose which foods she wants based on how she wants to feel. It also sets her up for a lifetime of healthy eating habits (instead of teaching her that snack food is bad, which can lead to eating disorders, etc.). She often asks for “something healthy,” because she’s learned that her food choices can help her feel better … or worse.

(Oh and for the record, I am Googling “what nutrients does bread have” or “what’s in cantaloupe” all the time!)

Because of the Coronavirus, we’ve placed even more of an importance of healthy food choices.

“Let’s make sure to finish our vegetables so our bodies can use them to fight off the germs.”

In addition to food, we also talk about sleeping enough, drinking lots of water, moving our bodies and taking all of our supplements. These things are part of our daily routine, and we’re not deviating from that routine even though life feels different (and let’s face it: because it is different).

 

Being Prepared:

“Mom, why are we buying all this food?!” 

Talking to our children about possible realities without invoking the idea of scarcity mindset is truly a dance. Especially in the middle of a crowded grocery store. My response to that question, as we were loading up our pantry at the grocery store was simple:

“We might not be able to come to the store as often as we used to, so we want to make sure we have what we need.” 

“Because of the virus?”

“Yes … because we might need to stay home so we don’t spread the virus to others and so we don’t get sick.” 

That’s a scary thought to us adults, so just imagine how it sounds to children. With that, I also try to add in the fun. I also say things like:

  • What food should we make that we don’t get to very often?!
  • Let’s get some new craft supplies!
  • How about we check out some extra library books!
  • Ooo! Frozen 2 is on Disney+!
  • I can’t wait to spend extra time with you this month!

With every piece of change that’s announced, I’m sure to read my child’s emotions. If something seems to make her nervous or uneasy, we talk about it. And sometimes, at this age, the conversation is receptive. And I’m perfectly fine with that. My responses are consistent, truthful, calm and positive.

 

Mindfulness:

Being aware of your own feelings and your own body is truly imperative in this time. That’s mindfulness. Helping our children recognize their own feelings and their own response to those feeling is crucial.

We need to help our children process and feel these emotions. Not sweep them under the rug. Not pretend like they don’t exist. Change is here, and whether things are drastically different for a few weeks or forever, we need to help our children through it.

Here are some tips to help promote mindfulness with children:
1. Press pause: sometimes silence, doing nothing and just being together is the best solution
2. Create a quiet corner in your home where you children can go when they feel overwhelmed. Make it comfortable and filled with stuffed animals, some books and some de-stressing toys like glitter jars or stress balls
3.  Try yoga. We love Cosmic Kids Yoga on Amazon Prime Video.
4. Meditate. Headspace is an app I’ve been using for a few months for myself, and there are many meditations for kids (even kids under 5).
5. Share a 3 breath hug together.
6. Head outside. There’s nothing like the wonder of the outdoors to help you feel present in the here and the now.
7. Talk about the things you’re grateful for with your children (food, shelter, each other, etc.)

Some of our favorite books on mindfulness:

I Am Peace

My Magic Breath

Mindful Bea and The Worry Tree

Breathe Like a Bear

Listening to My Body

Comfortable chair in a corner with a bookshelf

Turn off the news:

This should go without saying, but our children do not need to hear the constant stream of often fear-based headlines. Especially when watching cable news, it’s a nonstop stream of negativity, enough to make anyone anxious. We don’t watch the news in front of Harper unless it’s local news (and even then I often have to turn it off).

If you feel like you must get your news from these sources, record the show and watch it when the kids are asleep. Or see if your preferred outlet streams online.

 

 

Like so many other journeys in parenting, when I help my daughter, I also help myself. I am working to constantly be more mindful of daily stressors and triggers and can adjust my habits and thoughts accordingly. And when I am operating with a full tank and in my body, I’m able to be the best mom I can be for my little girl who needs me now more than ever.

 

 

Tell me in the comments: How have you been talking to your children about the Coronavirus?

Ashley T
Ashley T

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