“Talking to Children about COVID-19” is the third Q&A in this three-part series where we provide expert advice about protecting children and helping families deal with COVID-19.
Q: How should I answer these commonly asked questions?
What is COVID-19?
• COVID-19 is the short name for “coronavirus disease 2019.” It is a new virus. Doctors and scientists are still learning about it.
• 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.
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 play to help keep 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.
What happens if someone gets sick with COVID-19? I’m scared.
• 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.
• 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 truly are 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?