How to Help Children Understand Misinformation About COVID

For better or for worse, children tend to have active imaginations. With COVID-19 being everywhere on the news and a hot conversation topic, your child may have some misconceptions about the virus and may be feeling on edge. There’s no need to stress—there are plenty of parents and caregivers who are in the exact same position as you. Even if you’re feeling a little uncertain about the future, you can take a few extra precautions to help your kids really understand what’s going on as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

[Edit]Steps

[Edit]Talking about COVID-19

  1. Speak to your children in a calm and relaxed tone. Children are really sensitive to what you say and do. If you sound stressed or concerned while talking about the virus, your children may pick up on this concern and feel stressed out themselves. Instead, make an effort to sound relaxed as you prepare to explain what’s going on in the world.[1]
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    • You can say extra things to help calm your children down, like “There’s a lot of really smart people who are working to stop this virus,” or “You can stay extra safe and healthy by washing your hands a lot.”
    • For instance, you can start off by saying something like this: “You’re a smart cookie, and I’m sure you’ve heard a lot about the virus that’s going around. It may seem scary, but there are lots of things we can do to stay healthy.”
  2. Employ simple language when you talk with your child. A lot of news reports and technical articles use a lot of technical jargon to describe the most recent data and tests. While this information may be useful for adults, it’ll only be confusing and off-putting to your children. Instead, try to water down the situation into easy, conversational language that your child can understand completely.[2]
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    • For instance, instead of saying “Symptomatic people need to stay home,” you can say something like: “If you’re feeling sick, you should stay home until you feel all better.”
  3. Answer any questions your kids may have about the virus. Encourage your child to share any and all questions they have about the virus, so you can ease their worries while keeping them informed.[3] Maintain a calm, relaxed tone while you talk with your kids, doing your best to answer each question to the best of your ability. If you don’t know an answer, don’t feel the need to make something up—just let your kids know that you’ll look it up and have an answer for them soon.[4]
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    • You can always start a conversation with something like: “What have you heard about the virus so far?” or “Has anyone from school told you anything about the virus?”
    • You may need to filter some of your language so it’s more age-appropriate for your kids.
    • For instance, you can say something like: “The virus is an icky germ that gets spread around when people sneeze and cough.”
  4. Avoid watching the news when your kids are around. Children have really wild imaginations, and there’s no telling what or how they’ll react to different news reports. With this in mind, keep your TV off the news channel while your kids are in the room so they aren’t barraged with unpleasant, scary information. Instead, let your children watch age-appropriate TV and movies that aren’t related to plagues, pandemics, or illness in general.[5]
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    • If you choose to show your children a video about COVID-19, watch it ahead of time to make sure it’s appropriate and not too complex.
    • Avoid games like Plague, Inc., along with movies like Train to Busan, Contagion, or World War Z.
  5. Double-check that everything you’re saying is accurate. Take a few minutes to cross-check your information with reputable sources, like the World Health Organization (WHO) or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While it’s important to keep your children informed, you don’t want to spread false information by mistake. You can stop misinformation in its tracks by telling your kids the facts instead of sharing any speculation.[6]
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    • For instance, you can explain that “COVID-19” stands for “coronavirus 2019,” or that washing your hands can prevent the spread of germs.
  6. Watch what you say and discuss around your children. It’s perfectly understandable if you’re feeling nervous and uncertain during these stressful times. With this in mind, try to be aware of where your children are. Above all else, do your best to stay calm and collected instead of reacting unpleasantly to any news updates.[7]
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    • Go easy on yourself. Many parents and caregivers are in the same boat as you. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help and support if you need it!
  7. Remind your kids that they’re perfectly safe. Try to view the pandemic from a child’s perspective. They’ve likely seen or heard reports about a lot of people dying, which is anxiety-inducing for any person to hear. Tell your kids that they’re safe and out of harm’s way, however many times they need to hear it.[8]
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    • You can say something like: “There’s no need to worry. I’ll do my very best to keep us all safe and healthy.”

[Edit]Reaffirming the Facts

  1. Address some rumors that your children may have heard. Your children are likely talking about the virus with their friends in one form or another. Correct any misinformation your children are hearing then and there to stop them in their tracks. Instead, share factual information supported by experts, so your children can feel more at ease.[9]
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    • For instance, your child may say something like: “John told me we don’t really have to wear masks, and that the virus goes directly into your brain.” In response, you can say something like: “The virus is really similar to the flu, or having a bad cold. Wearing masks helps you stay healthy.”
  2. Explain that the virus spreads without anyone noticing. Young kids may not understand what a virus is or how it spreads so quickly. Help break the concept down into bite-sized pieces by explaining that a virus is something tiny and invisible that causes people to feel less than their best. Explain that the virus spreads whenever you sneeze or cough, which is why it’s important to wear masks and stand at a distance from other people. Mention that some people may feel sore, or feel like they have a bad cold.[10]
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    • For instance, you can say something like, “You may feel icky for a few days, like your nose is really stuffy. If this happens, you just need to drink lots of water and get lots of sleep.”
  3. Reassure your child that COVID-19 is usually just a bad cold. With all the doom and gloom on the news, it may help to paint a more accurate picture for your kids of what the virus looks like. Keep stressing that the virus is similar to a cold, and that you’ll feel a little achy, warm, and less than your best if you catch it. Additionally, gently explain that some people may get a little sicker than others since their bodies aren’t as strong and healthy.[11]
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    • For example, you can say something like: “There’s nothing to worry about. If you get the virus, you may get some sniffles and feel a little achy. It’s nothing a bit of bed rest and TLC can’t handle!”
  4. Remind your child that it’s easy to practice healthy habits. While you shouldn’t downplay the virus, let your kids know that’s very easy to stay healthy at home by washing your hands often and wearing a mask when you go outside. Additionally, teach your kids how to sneeze and cough into their elbows, so they aren’t as likely to spread germs.[12]
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    • You can make or purchase a mask for your kid that features some of their favorite cartoon characters or other interests, which may make them more willing to wear a mask.
  5. Let your children know that many people are working to keep everyone safe. Remind your kids that there are lots of really smart people all over the world looking for a way to cure the virus. These smart people are getting closer and closer to a solution, and are working around-the-clock to keep everyone safe and healthy.[13]
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    • For instance, you can show your kids how to wash their hands properly by washing and rinsing for 20 seconds.
  6. Explain to your children how staying at home can help others. Your kids are probably getting a lot of cabin fever from being cooped up at home for so long. Do your best to sympathize with their frustrations, while reminding them that social distancing is an important part of helping others. Explain that staying at home prevents you from sharing or receiving invisible, nasty germs that can make you sick.[14]
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    • Your child may complain about how their friend is allowed to go to the beach, while they have to stay at home. You can say something like: “I know it seems really unfair, but staying at home helps keep everyone safe and healthy. Once everything calms down, we’ll be able to go to the beach together!”
  7. Emphasize that any person can get the virus. Kids can hear a lot of different rumors and opinions from a lot of different sources. If you hear your kids saying something harmful or incorrect, take some time to correct them. Remind your children that anyone from any background can get COVID-19, no matter what the color of their skin is.[15]
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    • For instance, you can say something like: “The virus spreads really easily, and anyone can catch it. It isn’t fair to say that some people are more likely to spread the sickness than others.”
  8. Help your children practice empathy towards people who are sick. Remind your kids that there’s nothing wrong with being sick and that people who tested positive for COVID-19 need a lot of love and support as they continue to get better. Encourage your child to express concern and good wishes for all sick individuals, and not just people they know.[16]
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[Edit]Tips

  • Continue modeling healthy behavior around your home, like washing your hands and sneezing into a tissue. Additionally, remind your children not to touch their eyes, nose or mouth.[17]
  • Coping with the COVID-19 crisis as an adult can be incredibly overwhelming. If you feel like you’re at the end of your rope, you can call the Disaster Distress Hotline at 1-800-985-5990. This hotline can offer on-the-spot counseling, and also give you some tips for dealing with your stress.[18]

[Edit]References

  1. https://www.health.state.mn.us/communities/mentalhealth/children
  2. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-51734855
  3. https://www.familyequality.org/2020/03/16/coronavirus-covid-19-how-to-talk-to-your-kids-and-what-to-do-at-home/
  4. https://www.publichealthgreybruce.on.ca/Portals/0/Topics/InfectiousDiseases/Helping%20children%20understand%20COVID19.pdf?ver=2020-03-13-152919-143
  5. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/screen-play/202003/don-t-let-your-kids-watch-tv-about-the-coronavirus-pandemic
  6. https://www.familyequality.org/2020/03/16/coronavirus-covid-19-how-to-talk-to-your-kids-and-what-to-do-at-home/
  7. https://www.publichealthgreybruce.on.ca/Portals/0/Topics/InfectiousDiseases/Helping%20children%20understand%20COVID19.pdf?ver=2020-03-13-152919-143
  8. https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/20/03/helping-children-cope-coronavirus-and-uncertainty
  9. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/kids-covid-19/art-20482508
  10. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/kids-covid-19/art-20482508
  11. https://www.health.state.mn.us/communities/mentalhealth/children
  12. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/prevention.html
  13. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/kids-covid-19/art-20482508
  14. https://www.health.state.mn.us/communities/mentalhealth/children
  15. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/share-facts.html
  16. https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/20/03/helping-children-cope-coronavirus-and-uncertainty
  17. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/share-facts.html
  18. https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/disaster-distress-helpline
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