How to talk to your child about COVID-19

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Parents and caregivers play an important role in making sure their children receive honest and accurate information during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Key points

  • Share ‘need to know’ information with your child, using age appropriate language.
  • Answer questions directly and honestly and do not make false promises.
  • It is okay if you do not know all the answers; focus on the short-term plan for the whole family.
  • If children are distressed, let them know that it is OK and understandable to have these feelings.
  • Model healthy coping skills and attend to your own physical and mental health.
  • Consider seeking out additional resources and supports for children with special needs or who are having trouble coping.


The COVID-19 pandemic is interrupting our daily lives and children are impacted by this. They are not in school and their daily routines have been disrupted. Many may hear or see things about the COVID-19 pandemic and be worried and have questions. Parents and caregivers have an important role to play in making sure their children receive honest and accurate information that is appropriate for their developmental level.

How do I talk to my child about COVID-19?

It is important for adults to provide accurate information that is appropriate to their child’s developmental level. For younger children, simple statements of facts are often enough. For example, you might say:

“Lots of people have been getting sick with sore throats and coughs. We know that germs can cause this, so for now, places like schools, parks and stores are closed. This will help to stop the germs from spreading. We also need to wash our hands a lot, to keep ourselves and others healthy.”

Older children and teens may ask additional questions about where or how the pandemic began, what the leaders of our community and country are doing about it, how the pandemic affects them and how long the pandemic will last. Parents and caregivers should provide accurate, balanced and non-blaming or stigmatizing information to their children. For example, you might say:

“The world is facing this challenge together and many people are working hard to come up with ways to help. As a matter of fact, the reason we are staying home is because scientists have learned this is the best way to reduce the impact of the virus. By staying home, you help to protect those that are more vulnerable such as the elderly and people with weaker immune systems.”

Or you could say:

“This is not the first time the world has faced a challenge like this, and people become resourceful and start working together during such times to get things done. Researchers are sharing their findings to speed up progress to find treatments. Doctors and scientists across the world are talking to each other about what treatments may work and what treatments do not work. It is important you are aware not everything posted online is true. Many sites use clickbait to get you to look at information that is exaggerated, misleading or untrue.”

It is okay to say you do not know all the answer to your child’s questions, or that you are feeling worried as well. When talking to your child, try to present a hopeful positive outlook and tone. Be mindful of news, radio, or social media information your children are exposed to and minimize their exposure if not appropriate to their level of understanding.

Also, emphasize that your family is taking the right steps to stay safe going forward. Remember your child is not only learning from what you are explaining with words, but also, perhaps more so, from how you behave. If your actions show you are nervous and stressed, then your child will “learn” that the situation is stressful and being nervous and stressed is the best way to deal with it. In contrast, if you remain calm and composed about the situation, your child will feel safer and learn that staying calm is the best way to deal with it. Children pick up on and mirror your cues. Your children will also notice if you are ‘hiding’ things from them or having whispered conversations with other adults; this will add to a child’s stress. If you are having difficulty managing your own anxiety, ask for help from family, friends, and if needed, your health-care provider.

How do I answer my child’s questions about COVID-19?

When answering your child’s questions, try to find out what your child already knows. Provide accurate and honest information that is appropriate for their developmental level. Do not make false promises about how long the pandemic will last, as things are changing every day. The Centers for Disease Control has provided some child friendly answers to common health related questions about COVID-19.

Encourage children to help with planning and focus on the short-term

Parents and caregivers can acknowledge the uncertainty regarding the coming weeks and months. They can encourage the whole family to be flexible with their plans and focus on the short-term. It can be helpful for everyone to focus on their community and their family and find safe ways to help others during the pandemic. Both children and adults feel better if they can do something. It is important to realize that even simple actions can be of great importance; for example, calling someone regularly who you know is alone or has difficulty coping with the situation. Where possible you can consider involving your child in these actions. Some examples include reaching out to relatives, friends and neighbors using methods such as social media, email, phone calls or video chat; writing letters or cards; or coming up with activities that can be shared remotely with other families. Reaching out to local online community and school groups may be another good place to start.

Work with your child to develop a daily schedule. This could include academic and learning activities, leisure and creative activities, and physical activities. It can be helpful to schedule or limit non-academic screen time from the beginning, to avoid overuse and a future need to cut back. Refer to the family schedule throughout the day. For some children an entire day can be overwhelming, so break the schedule down into shorter periods of time (for example, a morning schedule and an afternoon schedule). Try to stick to a consistent routine for waking up, meals and snacks, and bedtime. Routines offer security and predictability to children.

If your child is upset, validate their feelings

It is common for children (and adults) to feel scared, upset, anxious or distressed during stressful times. For some children, this may take the form of tantrums and difficult behaviours such as aggression. Other children may have more trouble getting to sleep. Some children might show regression, temporarily losing a previously acquired skill, as a symptom of anxiety. Examples include if your child starts wetting the bed or asking for more help with daily tasks such as getting dressed.

Parents and caregivers should validate their children’s feelings by saying for example: “I can see you are really scared right now” or “You really miss your school and friends, it is hard to be home all day.” Avoid providing false reassurance or trying to fix their distress. Offer concrete reassurance by saying for example: “I am here for you when you are ready, or if you need me” and “We will get through this together.” For younger children, distraction and redirection can also be helpful. For example, you can suggest reading a book together. Remember that children are adaptable and resilient by nature.

Model healthy coping skills and attend to your own physical and mental health

It is vital that parents and caregivers take care of their own physical health and stress level during the pandemic. Look after yourself because your children depend on you. This includes eating nutritious food, getting adequate sleep, taking care of your grooming, and trying to include exercise in your day. Find a few quiet moments each day and listen to music, meditate or pray, do yoga and connect with loved ones.

Children take their cues from parents and caregivers. If you as a parent or caregiver are anxious or panicked, then your child will pick up on this and likely feel the same way. Social isolation and high levels of stress can be overwhelming for everyone; it is okay for parents to step away, take breaks, and seek help when needed.

Parents and children should avoid listening to and looking at too much news and media content as this can cause and increase anxiety. You should pick a reliable news source and check in no more than once or twice each day. Reach out to your family physician or other supports if you are having trouble coping. See the Centre for Addition and Mental Health website for recommendations and supports for adults.

Consider seeking out additional resources for your child

For children with unique communication needs or developmental disabilities, consider seeking out additional resources to explain what is happening. For example, visit Autism Speaks Canada for a flu teaching story to share with your child.

For children and youth who are experiencing ongoing increased distress or anxiety, consider reaching out to your regular health-care providers. Most providers should be able to offer virtual or phone check-ups. Some helpful online apps to help parents (and children) cope are listed below.

  • Anxiety Canada website has helpful information and guides to develop an anxiety plan for people of all ages.
  • Mental health apps: MindShift, Calm, Headspace, and Stop, breathe and think. These offer general coping strategies and introductions to cognitive behavioural therapy. All of them have some free content or trials.
  • Mindfulness and meditation: Smiling mind (meditation for all ages), and UCLA Mindful.
  • Guided meditations from AboutKidsHealth, a health education resource for children, youth and caregivers that is approved by health-care providers at The Hospital for Sick Children.
Last updated: March 31st 2020