Tips for parents when talking to their children about COVID-19

Released: 04/06/20

Bridgette Hensley, Mayo Clinic Health System psychologist at Winneshiek Medical Center Decorah Clinic shares ways to help parents speak with their children about the coronavirus (COVID – 19) outbreak.  Dr. Hensley explains, “Children and teens will model their reactions off of what they see from the adults around them. When parents and caregivers deal with the COVID-19 calmly and confidently, they can provide the best support for their children.”

Not all children and teens respond to stress in the same way. Some common changes to watch for include:

  • Excessive crying or irritation in younger children
  • Returning to behaviors they have outgrown (for example, toileting accidents or bedwetting)
  • Excessive worry or sadness
  • Unhealthy eating or sleeping habits
  • Irritability and “acting out” behaviors in teens
  • Poor school performance or avoiding school
  • Difficulty with attention and concentration
  • Avoidance of activities enjoyed in the past
  • Unexplained headaches or body pain
  • Use of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs

To support your children during the pandemic, consider the following suggestions:

  • Take time to talk with your child or teen about the COVID-19 outbreak. Answer questions and share facts about COVID-19 in a way that your child or teen can understand.
  • Reassure your child or teen that they are safe. Let them know it is ok if they feel upset. Share with them how you deal with your own stress so that they can learn how to cope from you.
  • Limit your family’s exposure to news coverage of the event, including social media. Children may misinterpret what they hear and can be frightened about something they do not understand.
  • Try to keep up with regular routines. If schools are closed, create a schedule for learning activities and relaxing or fun activities.
  • Be a role model. Take breaks, get plenty of sleep, exercise and eat well. Connect with your friends and family members virtually during social distancing recommendations.

For more information on speaking with your kids during the COVID – 19 outbreak, visit https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/managing-stress-anxiety.html

Related information on helping children cope during emergencies may be found at: https://www.cdc.gov/childrenindisasters/helping-children-cope.html

This material is for your education and information only. This content does not replace medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. New medical research may change this information. If you have questions about a medical condition or if stress is affecting your daily life after several days, contact your health care provider.

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