As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues, talk of the virus is nearly impossible to escape. Turning on the television or logging on to social media channels can quickly lead to information overload. This can be difficult for anyone to deal with, but especially for children.

Even if you have made an effort to avoid watching the news or discussing the pandemic around your children, they likely still have questions and concerns. Take a moment to read our responses to common questions below to help you effectively talk to your child about COVID-19, and make sure they are getting the answers they need from the person they trust most.

In addition to talking to your child about COVID-19, you can also help keep them safe and healthy by staying informed with the latest health information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and continuing to refer to our hospital website, as guidance frequently changes.

Q: How should I answer these commonly asked questions?

What is COVID-19?

  • COVID-19 is short for "coronavirus disease 2019." A new and contagious virus that doctors and scientists are still learning about.
  • Recently, this virus has made a lot of people sick. Scientists and doctors think that most people will be okay, especially kids, but some people might get pretty sick.
  • Doctors and health experts are working hard to help people stay healthy every day.

What can I do so that I don't get COVID-19?

Not everyone will get COVID-19. There are healthy habits you can practice at home, school and playtime to prevent the virus from spreading:

  • Cough or sneeze into a tissue or your elbow. If you sneeze or cough into a tissue, throw it in the trash right away.
  • Keep your hands out of your mouth, nose and eyes. This will help keep germs out of your body.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Follow these five steps - wet, lather (make bubbles), scrub (rub together), rinse and dry. You can sing the "Happy Birthday" song twice.
  • If you don't have soap and water, have an adult help you use a special hand cleaner.
  • Keep things clean. Older children can help adults at home and school clean the things we touch the most, like desks, doorknobs, light switches and remote controls.
  • Stay home if you feel sick. Just like you don't want to get other people's germs in your body, other people don't want to get your germs either.

I'm scared. What happens if someone gets sick with COVID-19?

  • COVID-19 can look different in different people. For many people, being sick with COVID-19 would be a little bit like having the flu. People can get a fever, cough or have a hard time taking deep breaths. Most people who have gotten COVID-19 have not gotten very sick. Only a small group of people who get it have had more serious problems. From what doctors have seen so far, most children don't seem to get very sick.
  • If you do get sick, it doesn't always mean you have COVID-19. People can get sick from all kinds of germs. What's important to remember is that if you do get sick, the adults at home and school will help you.

(Note for parents: If you suspect your child may have COVID-19, call your healthcare provider to let them know before you bring your child in to see them.)

Q: How can I make sure that my answers are age appropriate?

  • See development chart below. Early elementary school children need short, simple information that should balance COVID-19 facts with appropriate comfort that their schools and homes are safe and that adults are there to help keep them healthy and take care of them if they do get sick. Give examples of the steps people take every day to stop germs and stay healthy, such as washing hands. Use language such as "adults are working hard to keep you safe."
  • Upper elementary and early middle school children will be more open to asking questions about whether they are truly safe and what will happen if COVID-19 comes to their school or community. They may need help understanding the facts and how their school and community are working to prevent germs from spreading.

Q: How can I expect my child to react?

  • See development chart below. The common reactions to concern, worry or sadness will fade over time for most children. Children who were directly exposed to an illness such as COVID-19 can become upset again, especially if they see or hear reminders. If children continue to be very upset or if their reactions hurt their schoolwork or relationships, then parents may want to talk to a professional and seek counsel for their children from someone who specializes in children's emotional needs. Visit the CDC for additional information on helping children cope.

Development Chart - What's going to happen?

Navigating developmental coping with stress and change
Created by Megan Gerber, BS, CCLS

Developmental stage (age) Difficult emotions you may notice Potential behaviors Ways to help
2-4 years old Clingy, less independent, angry, tearful...remember they are out of their normal routine Bed-wetting, throwing toys or objects, regression in potty training or other skills, biting, talking to whoever (even strangers) about details Be patient. Listen to the "why." Sit down with the child, hug them and be flexible. Create a new routine that they can trust.
These children WILL notice any changes in adult behaviors and/or emotions.
5-8 years old Fear, insecurity, nightmares, physical complaints (stomach pain, headaches, or generalized pain), feelings of being out of control, thinking they caused the sickness Yelling, regressive behaviors, acting like nothing is happening or asking repetitive questions (needing too much information) Create a safe place for regression; do not criticize for regressive behaviors. Identify opportunities for play, both medical and non-medical. Create boundaries and a trustworthy routine. Answer repetitive questions concretely and honestly.
8-12 years old Insecurity, loneliness, isolation, anger, abandonment, worry, anxiety, thinking they caused the sickness Not following or always following (extreme) the boundaries/rules, yelling, sneaking around the house or outside, concentration difficulties. Provide opportunities for expression inside/outside. Slow down and listen to your child. Involve more complex medical play. Provide creative social interactions through technology.
13-18 years old Insecurity, loss of independence, irritability, increase in risk taking, feelings of loss and isolation, solitude or abandonment Pushing boundaries, arguments with families and siblings, withdrawal from social activities Provide as many social opportunities as possible. Have conversations about the importance of rules/ guidelines. Give them space.