Here are some tips for talking to anxious kids about the coronavirus:
Validate their feelings. Telling kids everything’s going to be OK may seem like a good way to handle it, but it can backfire. It doesn’t address their fears and it’s not something you can guarantee. Instead, respond with empathy: “I know you’re worried. The good news is there are ways we can help make things better.”
Keep your own anxiety in check. Sometimes we bring what we’re worried about into the conversation. Instead of saying, “I’m also worried that we may be exposed to the virus,” try simply saying, “I’m a little concerned, too. But I just focus on the facts.”
Lead by example. Kids watch to see how you respond to the situation. If you’re calm and rational, that can help settle some anxiety. Even if you don’t feel calm, try to act that way.
Sort out “what if” from “what is.” Help kids separate what’s currently happening from what they worry about happening. Let them know that you’ll deal with the “what ifs” if (or when) they come up.
Give honest, accurate information at a level kids can understand. Make sure kids know there are a lot of rumors out there. Explain what they need to know. For example, younger kids may need to know more about proper hygiene than about how a virus spreads. That’s something they can act on and be in control of.
Be sure you’re available to listen, too, says Understood senior expert and writer Amanda Morin. “Anxiety tends to come and go,” she says. “As new information comes out, kids may need to continue the conversation.”
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About the author
The Understood Team is made up of passionate writers and editors. Many of them have kids who learn and think differently.
Amanda Morin is the director of thought leadership at Understood and author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.” She worked as a classroom teacher and early intervention specialist for more than a decade.