What to say (and what not to say) to kids about coronavirus

Posted at 1:59 PM, Mar 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-16 14:12:32-04

NEW YORK -- This is a stressful and trying time for both adults and children. As the coronavirus worries increase, so does the anxiety.

School closures, cancelled activities, and parents working from home - each day brings changes to our daily lives as the nation sees more cases of the coronavirus.

Family therapist Darby Fox said when talking to children, tailor the message to the child’s age.

With kids under four, discussions should be very limited.

With kids four to seven, she said be sure to use concrete terms like, “There’s a virus that’s kind of like the flu. You know, sometimes you get a sore throat or your stomach hurts, you don’t feel well.”

For kids seven to 10, she said parents can stress that children don’t seem to be as affected as much as older adults, but that we all still need to do our part for prevention.

“And just say, for a little while we don’t want to pass the germs around. So we’re just going to stay at home. We're gonna do some different things and we’ll be fine. Really reassuring,” she said.

Reiterating the importance of good hand washing is one way to empower children that they are helping prevent the virus from spreading.

For kids older than 10, parents can look at the science on the virus and stress that most cases are usually mild.

In general, vocabulary matters, so experts say keep death out of it.

"Because we don’t really know how do you prevent death and it’s so ominous. So I think that again we go back to a language of: yes, you could get sick but you know what, you’ve had other illnesses and you're going to be ok,” Fox said.

Fox said to also take time for yourself so you can manage your own fears in order to be able to handle your family’s fears.

Experts said limiting a child’s exposure to media and social media coverage of the outbreak is also best.