Talking to Children About COVID-19

It is likely that the young children in your care have heard adults and siblings talk about coronavirus and CODIV-19. It is also likely that each child in your care has a different understanding, and maybe even a different capacity to understand what they are hearing from their family members.  One thing children do understand is that life has changed. Perhaps one or both parents have been home for an extended period. Perhaps there have been financial struggles as a result of unemployment. Time at home with family members could have been joyous for some children and scary for other children.

When considering conversations with children about the coronavirus, it may be a good idea to speak to children individually first, to gauge what children know and understand.  This initial investigation will help you make decisions about how best to move forward with conversations.  If you have a conversation with a group of 15 children, you risk confusing some of the children who may not have as much information as other children.

At first, just ask questions.  Ask children what they think is happening. Ask them to tell you more, or attempt to clarify their responses with additional questions. You don’t need to impart facts at this time, just listen.

Be sure to validate any feelings of fear or unease that children communicate. Let children know that it is a confusing time for everyone and that they are not alone in the way they feel.  Also, let them know that you are doing all you can to keep them safe. Don’t force children to talk, if it appears that they are not interested in the conversation. Let them know that you care about them and if they ever want to talk, you are there to listen.

Once you have a sense of what children understand, you can create a plan for small-group or large- group discussions.  You may choose to start the conversation with a book or a social story, like the example here.  If you use a prewritten story, be sure to modify the language to meet the understanding of your audience. You might also ask for some keywords to be translated into the home languages of your students.

Keep in mind, children may have experienced the loss of a loved one, or are currently separated from a loved one because of isolation protocols. It is important to have open lines of communication with families so that you can offer as much support as necessary.

Here is an excellent resource entitled, Supporting Young Children after Crisis Events, written by David Schonfeld from the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement.  Be sure to seek out additional information as children’s individual situations become apparent.