Exactly what you should tell your kids about coronavirus

Dr Sarah Hughes | 

It’s a confusing time and most of us have more questions than answers when it comes to the current pandemic.  So, when it comes to kids – it’s tempting to avoid the conversation altogether.

But you can’t not talk to your kids about COVID-19.  Other kids will be talking about it at school, they’re going to notice the empty supermarket shelves where toilet paper, rice, and pasta should be, and it's big news right now which means it’s everywhere – TV, radio, newspapers – you name it. 

But kids don’t need to be across every breaking news development about COVID-19 either. And they don’t need to be drawn into the ever-increasing panic spiral that the virus has triggered. 

"They don't need to know the details"

Think of it this way: When parents get divorced, kids obviously need to know. But do they need to know all the ins and outs of that divorce?  Who’s most to blame, who had an affair, and who’s refusing to pay child support? No. They need to be kept out of adult issues and protected from adult anxiety and panic. 

The same goes with COVID-19. 

So, when your child comes home from school scared because other kids are talking about COVID-19 and all the people who’ve died, don’t avoid the conversation. 

Don’t minimise your child’s distress, or brush over their concerns and pretend it’s a non-issue.  Sit down and talk through the facts – the child-friendly filtered ones. Like the fact that yes, a little over 300 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in Australia, but about 25,500,000 people live here, which means that less than 0.01 percent of Australians have COVID-19 and more than 99.99 percent don’t.

There are kid-friendly ways to talk about this. Image: iStock 

Tell them the truth

Like the fact that most of the 300+ people in Australia with COVID-19 caught it overseas, which is why the Prime Minister has said that as well as anyone who has COVID-19, anyone who’s returned from overseas in the last few weeks has to stay at home. He’s erring on the side of caution because that’s the best way to keep everyone healthy.

And you can talk about the fact that, yes, seven* people have died from COVID-19 which is really awful and really sad, but most people who get COVID-19 don’t die, they recover.  They’re sick for a while, just like when you get a really bad head cold or the flu, but then they get better. 

The people who’ve died from COVID-19 were older, and a bit frailer, which is why they didn’t get better, but that’s not the case for most people.   

Want more stories like this? Here's what you need to know about attending swim schools during the coronavirus pandemic, here is how to self-quarantine at home and here is one mum's plan for how to stockpile during the crisis. 


You can teach kids to be healthy without scaring them. Image: iStock 

You don't have to know everything

You can explain that we don’t have a vaccine yet for COVID-19 or treatment that helps people to feel better more quickly, and that’s why people are worried and the Prime Minister is making rules to keep everyone safe. Scientists are working on treatments and a vaccine, but it’ll take a bit more time, so we need to do a bit more than usual right now to stay healthy.

And because it’s obvious, and kids pick up on more than you realise, you need to acknowledge that lots of people are feeling anxious and worried at the moment, but it’s OK. 

It’s important to help your child to understand that adults get anxious and worried too, just like kids, and some adults are letting their anxiety and worry take over, which is why they’re buying lots of toilet paper, pasta, and rice. 

They’re forgetting that there are lots and lots of food at supermarkets and we have big factories in Australia to make toilet paper, which is why we won’t run out.

Your kids will look to you for how stressed they should be, and they need your help to stay calm. Encourage questions, give your child’s worries your undivided attention, and when it’s your turn to talk, stick to the facts – but only the child appropriate ones.

Dr. Sarah Hughes is the author of 'Parenting made simple: straightforward, practical strategies for common childhood challenges'. You can find out more on her website

*The figures included in this article are valid as of 20.03.20.


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