Talking to your kids about Covid-19
Talking to your kids about Covid-19

The following is a concise guide for how to talk to our children about Coronavirus and spend time together in preventative containment.

(Disclaimer: The information herein is the author's opinion alone. Consult with your family's professional healthcare providers and educators for information on what your particular family should do regarding Covid-19.)

1 Information-

1.1 The Coronavirus is a dynamic & confusing disease that is rampant with fake news and myths. Information about Covid-19 is changing daily at lightning speed. On a practical level it is important to know current information on the disease in order to follow the preventative measures of your local health experts.

Experts suggest that it is preferable to provide balanced information to your children about stressful matters as opposed to ignoring and sweeping them under the rug.
It is also important to have this information available to you in order to be competently able to relay pertinent information to your family. Providing calm, accurate, & balanced information will combat their uncertainty and fear.

Experts suggest that it is preferable to provide balanced information to your children about stressful matters as opposed to ignoring and sweeping them under the rug. By not rising to the occasion to hold this important conversation with your family you are passively allowing your children's fears, friends, and the media to be the ones who educate them.

1.2 Identify trusted sources of information about the disease. Don't watch news and media about the virus in front of your children-do this in a private place in the house to protect your children from general hysteria and an overdose of media intake. It is not good for adults or children to be constantly fixated on the gloomy and hysteric media concerning the virus-this adds unnecessary anxiety and distracts us from being in the moment with our children and engaging in meaningful activities.

1.3 Gather information from reliable sources that you think are important for your family to know. Put the various points down on a paper and consider how best to explain these points and their relevance to your children. Emphasize calmness, confidence, and control, explaining that there are things in your family's power to do that can help arrest the spread of the virus. Empower your children with practical steps that even they can take, such as washing their hands with soap. 

1.4 Telling lies to children does not work in the long run to calm them and can seriously erode their trust in you and adults in general. Instead, provide pertinent practical information calmly in the manner described above.

1.5 The outline of the conversation with your children may look like this-

-What is Coronavirus?

-Who does it mainly affect?

-How does it spread?

-What steps are the Global Community taking?

-What steps are your country taking?

-What steps are your family as a whole and each one of us individually able to take?

-Relate to your family that Covid-19 and containment is a temporary situation that will pass at the right time. Provide an example of a previous difficult time that the family got through together in order to demonstrate your family's ability to join altogether and be resilient and safe. Example: Your family once endured together a war or hurricane, and you were all safe.

-Reframe staying at home in containment as a unique opportunity that may create new possibilities of how to spend time together and possibly learn new things about the world or one another. 

-Announce that in the coming hours you will try to collaborate to create a schedule that will be interesting and suit everybody at home, and you will make the schedule available for everybody to see and refer to. Make sure to follow through.

Allow time for questions-

Encourage children to approach you with questions at any time-

2 Managing Fear, validation, providing calm-

2.1 Before discussing how to calm our children we must discuss the wellbeing and cooperation of the parents. Your family's various parts will be as strong as you are as its leadership.  

Collaborate with your spouse on your family plan. Be a team.  Work together with your spouse to calm your worries or appraise the situation.
Collaborate with your spouse on your family plan. Be a team.  Work together with your spouse to calm your worries or appraise the situation. Take a paper and prioritize what tasks at home need to be done. Make sure to rank calmness and order in the home as your top priority. Chaos, boredom, and family fights are your enemy. 

Be realistic about what chores can be accomplished and at what pace. Do your best to adapt to the limitations that you are in. Success in challenging times comes from one's skill to adapt as best as possible to the challenges they face, as well as from adopting an attitude of resilience. Remember also that this is a temporary situation that will pass at the right time.

2.2 It is important to validate your children's fears. If your child approaches you to share their feelings, make the effort to ensure they feel heard and validated before offering them a solution. 

Offer children simple methods that can be easily performed to calm themselves when they feel worried. Examples may include listening to calming music, reading funny jokes, or saying a chapter of Tehillim. Ask the child if they can think of a way that they'd like to calm themselves whenever they feel that way.

As the adage goes-"Don't give a man fish, teach him how to fish". In other words, we can use this as an opportunity to teach our children how to manage their feelings on their own. Finally, encourage them to approach you again if they would like to for any reason.

2.3 Ensure your children that you will provide them with any additional information that they need to know.

2.4 Assure your children and family that you will take care of them and take steps to keep them safe and healthy. Point out that as parents you have done this for them in the past and will continue to fulfill this role for them now from Covid-19 and any other concern in the future.

2.5 Demonstrate for your family preventative health measures such as washing hands with soap, coughing and sneezing into a tissue, and other recommendations provided by your local medical experts.

Have fun with this and do role-plays.

Encourage singing a simple song while lathering one's hands with soap such as "Happy-Birthday-To-You".

Emphasize that these are practical concrete actions that they themselves can do to prevent the spread of the virus and utilize this to make them feel powerful and maintain a sense of control. 

2.6 Demonstrate for your family calmness and resilience. They will look to you to see how to react. If they see Mom and Dad looking calm, they will know that they can be calm too. Schedule the time that you need to relax and get a grip on things and take care of yourself. I highly recommend learning and doing basic mindfulness meditation daily. Many free downloads of guided meditations can be found on the internet.

2.7 Your kids will most likely be exposed to people wearing gloves, face masks, and even full PPE protective suits. This may be scary for children to see so make sure to demystify these things for them. For example, explain to children that a face mask is just a type of glove for the face, and a PPE suit is like a glove for the whole body.

Have fun with this by providing your children with various materials and holding a contest to see who can make their own homegrown protective suit with colors and decorations. When we are playful with things that are perceived as scary it disarms our children's fear.

2.8 Your kids may also be hyper-attuned to their bodies and interpret every sniffle, sneeze, ache and cough as a sign that they have caught a terrible disease. Be ready to explain to them that not everything they feel means that they have the Coronavirus, and that most people that actually do have the virus end up being okay and healthy. 

3 Spending time together at home- 

3.1 It is paramount to make a schedule for your children. School provides our kids with routine and gives them a predictable way to expect how they will be spending their time in the coming hours and days.

With our children's schools closed it is up to us to provide a predictable routine for them that provides order, calm, and joy for our family.

With our children's schools closed it is up to us to provide a predictable routine for them that provides order, calm, and joy for our family.
3.2 Collaborate with your children to make part of this schedule. As the adult make sure to space and pace all activities to form a balanced day and week. Let there be some activities that your kids really look forward to. Include empty slots dedicated for play and free time. Schedule household chores and give out jobs for your kids to help with at home as they can and should be doing this too. As you follow your plan reassess and tweak it as necessary to provide your family with the desired goal of calm, order, and joy.


3.3 I highly encourage parents to use this opportunity to foster creativity and resourcefulness in our families, and I discourage being lazy and simply placing our children in front of Youtube or a television for mindless aimless viewing.

Make a proactive effort for at least part of the day to engage with your kids in meaningful activities that build them to be bigger and wiser people. Consider designating one of the children to record all fun activities in a diary or via pictures. At the end of this challenging and interesting period you can have a family night with popcorn and review a slideshow of all the nice things that you did together.

3.4 Here are some examples of things you can do together with your family-

-Pick easy recipes that the kids can cook or bake together with you. Afterwards they can enjoy eating their handiwork.

-Read books together. 

-Print out blank cartoon panels or memes and have the family create their own cartoons and jokes. Provide coloring books or engage in arts and crafts.

-Play music. Pick a song and ask everybody to sit down and focus on one instrument. Listen to the national anthem of various countries. Ask everybody in the family to take half an hour to fashion a homemade instrument-then get together to play a song together that everybody knows. 

-Pick a different continent to learn about each week and learn together the names of the countries in that place. See what the people there dress like, what their currency and flag looks like, and so on. Ask the kids which details interest them and look it up together.

-Use the various toys and objects at home to build things. Hold a contest challenging everybody to make a lego tower using a finite amount of pieces and household objects that you will provide them.

-Make together a family tree and teach your kids about their ancestors and the places that they originated from.

-Have your kids put on a play for you. Suggest to them the era and theme of the play and provide them with a bin of old clothes and objects to use to play their parts. Assign an older child to give out roles and scenes. 

-Encourage kids to call their friends, write emails, and send funny pictures to one another to maintain a sense of connection to peers and family.

-Look at old family albums together. Create a collage of pictures for each child. 

-Build a tent and go camping indoors.

-Take the time to study the the birds that you see everyday in your neighborhood and their features. Learn how to name and identify them.

-Print out a simple chart of various emotions and hold a contest. Ask your children to try and make each face and take a picture. Then compare each person's picture to one other and to the one featured on the chart. Give an example of when a person may feel that emotion and study emotional literacy together in a fun way. Give each child ten seconds to act it out.

4 Further reading-

To be concise we chose to omit other tips that you may find helpful. We hope you can benefit from some of the ideas mentioned above.

Consult with your child's educators, mental health providers, and physicians for further information on coping and any issues that may arise for you and your family. Make sure to follow your local guidelines on prevention and containment.

4.1 Further reading in English:

4.2 Further reading in Hebrew:

4.3 For a wide variety of constructive and educational activities to do when confined at home in Hebrew:

Wishing you and your family good health,

Avi Tenenbaum 

[email protected]

Avi Tenenbaum is an expert in Disaster Behavioral Health and Psychological First Aid. His experience includes providing aid for families coping in the wake of large-scale disasters and war including the Second Lebanon War, Hurricane Harvey, The Pittsburg Tree-of-Life massacre, the Haifa 2016 Fires, Operation Cast-Lead, and more.