"Be open and available for questions, allow expression of feelings and how to cope," says Dr. Robin Goodman.
It's hard to escape talk of coronavirus right now. It's in the news, on TV, and in your face when your local store sells out of things like disinfecting wipes or hand sanitizer. With that level of saturation, even kids who are too young to read the headlines are likely hearing about it, and may even be feeling as nervous and anxious as many adults are.
Talking to your kids about coronavirus is important, whether you're soothing their worries or simply reminding them about the importance of good hand washing.
The potential for disruption to daily life is high, but the CDC still says the risk is low and the recommendations for keeping kids safe from coronavirus are just the same as they are during the typical cold and flu season.
Here are some answers to the questions your kids may have.
No, we don't need masks
The U.S. Surgeon General says that masks aren't necessary, but washing your hands with soap and water, staying home from work or school when you're sick, and getting your flu shot are the best protections (the thought being that the fewer flu cases there are, the more doctor and hospitals will be available to support coronavirus patients).
If your kids have questions about the coronavirus, Dr. Robin Goodman told ABC News that it's i to answer them honestly and with age-appropriate information—though kids don't necessarily need to know every single bullet point. "Be careful about giving too much detail," she warns. There's a happy medium between going over the current death toll and pretending like nothing is amiss. "Be open and available for questions, allow expression of feelings and how to cope," she says.
Yes, we can make an emergency plan
It's almost important to let kids know that while they should take the virus seriously and follow the safety guidelines, it doesn't need to be all-consuming. "It is key to help children continue their lives as normally as possible, but at the same time be aware of what is happening," Dr. Daniela Raccanello told the New York Times. If older kids are worried about the worst-case scenarios—like what happens if someone in your family catches coronavirus—involve them in your emergency planning. That could include stocking up on groceries or over the counter medications to get you through a period of self-quarantine or talking to their teachers about what happens if their school closes. Knowing that there's a plan in place will likely be a huge comfort to an anxious child.
No, viruses don't target specific people
Another unfortunate layer to the coronavirus pandemic is the "stigma and discrimination [which] can occur when people associate an infectious disease, such as COVID-19, with a population or nationality," as the CDC notes, adding that this happens "even though not everyone in that population or from that region is specifically at risk for the disease (for example, Chinese-Americans and other Asian-Americans living in the United States)."
If children are exposed to misinformation it is important for us to correct it. We can teach our kids that "viruses cannot target people from specific populations, ethnicities, or racial backgrounds," and that stigma and discrimination are extremely hurtful.
No, children are not more susceptible
Perhaps the most important thing for moms and dads to do right now is to keep calm themselves. It should be reassuring for both kids and their parents to know that young people seem to be weathering the virus better than older ones. Robert Lahita, a New Jersey doctor who has been studying coronavirus, told USA Today that "with very young people, there is something that is preventing them from getting very sick."
Coronavirus's spread may be inevitable—it's reached over 75 countries already, according to CNN—but no one should be paralyzed by fear, least of all children. Keeping an open line of communication (and keeping a good supply of hand soap on hand) is the best line of defense.
If you need help explaining COVID-19 to your kids, this comic is a great resource
We love this comic from NPR's Malaka Gharib, which offers age-appropriate explanations about COVID-19 to school-age kids in a very digestible form.
Gharib's comic takes kids on an educational journey and ends with the best advice: "Don't forget! There are a LOT of helpers out there who are working to protect you. It is NOT your job to worry. But seriously, though....Please wash your hands!!!"
That's a message mamas and kids should take to heart.