Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19):  Helping Children Cope with COVID-19

First appearing in China in December 2019, coronavirus has rapidly spread around the globe infecting over 400,000 people.  With questions surrounding how it is spread, the lack of viable treatment options, shortages of virus testing, and continuous media coverage, coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has become a part of daily life that is impacting people of all ages.  Businesses are reducing hours of operations, or closing all together, public gatherings are being discouraged, and schools around the nation have shut down.  Given all the issues and questions that exist regarding the virus, parents and childcare workers are likely concerned with how they can educate their children and support their developmental needs.

Defining the terms related to COVID-19

Like all of us, children are probably hearing about coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) on a daily basis.  To best support the child’s development and knowledge, it is important to take time to sit with them to explain what defines COVID-19 using language they can understand.  Caretakers can get an idea of what the child knows by beginning the conversation with asking what they think coronavirus or COVID-19 is.  During the conversation, it is important to pay particular attention to defining several things in easy to understand terms:

Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) COVID-19 is a virus that can cause people to feel sick.  When people feel sick from the virus, they may have a fever, feel chills (feel cold), have a cough, and their body aches (hurts).  People usually get COVID-19 in their body from touching their nose, mouth, or eyes with their hands after the virus has gotten on their hands. The virus is very tiny so people cannot see it.  Since the virus cannot be seen, it is important to wash your hands several times a day, especially before you touch your nose, eyes, or mouth.

This coronavirus is new and has not been seen before which is the reason why you are hearing about it so much.  Doctors are learning more about the virus every day and trying to find ways to keep it from spreading by researching it.

Quarantine People that have coronavirus or have been in contact with someone with the virus, are being told to remain in quarantine.  This means that people should stay in their house and not go to places or areas with other people besides their family.

Social Distancing:  To help keep COVID-19 from spreading, people are being told to practice social distancing.  This means that if people have to leave their house, they should avoid being in close contact with people besides their family.  Pretend there is a bicycle between you and the other person.  Keep that space between you and other people when social distancing is required.  If you are around someone other than your family members, wave or smile to them rather than giving hugs, fist bumps, or high-fives.

Monitor or discontinue the child’s access to social media or news related to COVID-19

Because much is still unknown about the new coronavirus and there are numerous conflicting sources of information, explain to the child that you will need to monitor or discontinue their access to media for the time being.  Let them know that you will provide them with any new information on COVID-19 you learn.  Since you will be responsible for informing the child of information on the virus, it is important that reliable sources are used such as The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO),, state health departments, and communications from the child’s school district.  When watching or listening to the news, be aware if the child is present as they could be listening and interpreting what they hear.

Stress to the child how important good hand washing is

              Show the child how to properly wash hands to practice together.  Demonstrate how to create a lather all over the hands and how to get soap between the fingers.  Use a song while washing, such as singing “Happy Birthday” twice, to ensure they are spending enough time to fully clean their hands.  Hanging a sign on the front door, can also be a great reminder to wash their hands for kids when they come into the house.  And remind them to wash their hands before meals and after coughing, sneezing, or blowing their nose.

Managing cancelled events and isolation attributed to the virus outbreak

It is possible that a child will see canceling a family vacation, school, events, or activities as an indication they did something wrong.  As such, it is important to remind kids that the reason they cannot attend the event is to help prevent COVID-19 from spreading to other people.  If it is possible to reschedule any cancelled event to a future date, share that with the child and let them know you will be able to attend the event once safety can be assured.

Children process and learn through play so ensuring they have opportunities to play games, do puzzles, listen to or play music, dance, read books, do art projects, or exercise, are all beneficial while social distancing is advised.  Establish fun activities like movie nights, games, or cooking, that the whole family can participate in during the evening.  While being isolated at home may seem abnormal, using the time as an opportunity to bond and bring the family together can help create good memories from an imperfect situation.

While practicing social isolation, using electronic devices can be a great way for children to maintain and grow the relationships they have.  Keeping in touch with relatives by calling them or connecting over apps like FaceTime, can help children minimize the feeling of isolation while simultaneously building their relationships with family members.  Virtual play dates can be set up with the child’s friends to support their social growth and provide fulfilling activities.

How to help a child that becomes sick or has a friend or loved one infected with COVID-19

Should a child get sick with coronavirus, remind them that you will always be monitoring their condition and reassure them that you will be in close communication with a doctor for advice.  By the same token, should a friend or loved one become ill, assure the child that those people also have folks looking out and caring for them as well.  Having the child write a letter or draw a picture for the sick loved one, can help the child feel they are helping while letting the sick person know they are thought of.