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Talking to Young Children about COVID-19

As everyone’s been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is an anxious time for adults and  children. While we might think that we are able to shield children from the news and information about COVID-19, children usually catch on to much more than we realize. They are aware that their routines have changed and likely have noticed that their parents or caregivers are under a lot of stress right now. This is why it is so important to have honest and comforting conversations with young children about this pandemic.

Honest and Comforting Conversations

Conversations should be kept developmentally appropriate, to avoid overwhelming children with unnecessary or frightening information. However, they should give children a basic understanding of what is happening and why things are suddenly so different. While talking to children about what’s different, remind them what is staying the same: “We’re not going to school, but we’re still reading stories together every night before bed.” Ensure that children know that they are safe.

Answering Questions

Use children’s questions to gain an understanding of what children know and what they want to know. Use their questions as teachable moments and learning opportunities to give them small bits of information when they are curious and ready to learn. When answering questions, Zero to Three reminds that it is important to keep answers to questions both simple and age-appropriate.

  • Why can’t I go to school? When children are out of their typical routines, they will likely want to understand why. Zero to Three shares the following response as an example, “Your child care is closed right now. Your teacher and your friends are home too, just like you. When child care is open again, you can go back and see your friends. I’ll tell you when.” When talking to children about why they can’t go to school, it is important to avoid going into details about illness so toddlers don’t develop fears about attending child care when schools are open again.

  • Why is that person wearing a mask? If children have gone out, they have likely noticed people in stores or in the neighborhood wearing gloves, masks, or other protective gear. This can be scary for children as it is something they’re not used to seeing, and so a simple answer, such as “Sometimes people wear masks when they are sick. When they are all better, they stop wearing the mask.” Try to answer honestly, without giving too much unnecessary information that might be scary. For more about this particular question, check out this article from Zero to Three.

  • When will this be over? When will we go back to school? Although we don’t know all of the answers, it is important to reassure children that this will end. You might say something like, “when people are feeling better, you will go back to school and see your teachers and friends again.”

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