The COVID-19 Conversation with your Kids

Talking With Your Kids

Aim for Honesty and Simplicity

All our kids know that the world is upside down. Adults are anxious, school’s out, everyone’s home. . . and no playdates. As youth absorb the concern of the adults around them, how do parents talk to their kids about the changes?

When Adrienne So, senior writer at WIRED Magazine asked Victor Carrion, Stanford’s vice chair of psychiatry and director of the Stanford pediatric anxiety program, his gave practical advice.


Keep it Honest, Simple and Routine

1.     Explain simply. First, Carrion says, talk to kids about Covid-19 only as they ask. Otherwise, they’re not listening. When a child overhears some scary new warning or headline about the virus, speak honestly and at a level a little person can manage: “There’s an illness going around. Everyone’s being careful, and so are we. Let’s talk about what we’re going to do to be helpful.”

2.     Know your audience. To a young person, says Carrion, separation from parents is scarier than abstract concepts like sickness or death. Let them know the adults in their lives will protect the kids and protect themselves.

3.     Make safety a game. Try to make the new normal memorable and fun. A classic example is washing hands long enough for two renditions of “Happy Birthday.” Recyclables become crafts materials. (A box can be anything!) The children’s blogosphere is full of stories – classic, scientific, biographical, and more. 

4.     Help frame what to expect. For some adults, social distancing may be a cue to Netflix binge, but children lose stress through familiarity – through routine and repetition. An American parent in China, for example, quarantined with young children, wrote the day’s schedule on a whiteboard every morning. Playtime, reading, rest, etc. Knowing what to expect, the children felt safer. 

5.     Keep extended relationships warm. To keep the lines warm with school friends, family, and VIPs (vulnerable important people) at a healthy distance, we definitely have the technology. If you didn’t use them before, now’s the time to learn Facetime, Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts, and WhatsApp.