Talking to kids about coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

A pediatrician discusses how to talk to kids of any age about COVID-19 and staying safe.

With news about the new coronavirus and the disease it causes (COVID-19) changing by the day, keep in mind that your kids are hearing about it too, even if they don’t bring it up.

They’re getting information from other kids, social media or snippets of news reports, and likely to misunderstand what they’re hearing.

Deciding what to tell your kids, and how, largely depends on their age.

“Children at a younger age are seeing things about the COVID-19 coronavirus, and it might be things that are hard for them to understand, and they might be concerned about it,” said Mark A. Brockman Jr., M.D., a pediatrician at Norton Children’s Medical Group – Iroquois. “Definitely having an open dialogue in your household about the virus, what it means and what is happening is very important.”

But first, check your own anxiety. If you are overly concerned, your kids will pick up on it, so have the conversation when you are calm and comfortable. Take some time to educate yourself by visiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website,

“The more you know, the better that you’re going to feel, and the better your kids are going to feel,” Dr. Brockman said. “They will understand, ‘Mom and Dad are feeling OK, I’m going to be OK,’ so having that confidence will give your kids a lot more confidence as well.”

Talking to younger children (ages 5 to 8) about coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

For younger kids, there’s no need to ask them about the virus. At this age, it’s better to talk to them about proper hand-washing.

They need to understand the importance of washing their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds — singing “Happy Birthday” is always a good timer. Everyone needs to wash their hands after using the restroom, after coughing or sneezing, and before eating meals.

Make hand sanitizer available for when they can’t use soap and water. Children this age also need to be encouraged to keep their hands away from their face — no thumb sucking, fingernail biting, eye rubbing and the like. Those are all really good ways to spread any kind of virus, Dr. Brockman said.

Norton Children’s Medical Group

Norton Children’s Medical Group, affiliated with UofL School of Medicine, offers pediatric primary care at more than 20 locations throughout Greater Louisville, including Southern Indiana.

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Talking to older kids and teenagers about coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

You can get into more depth with adolescents and teenagers. Show them the website as a source of facts and caution them about relying on Twitter, Instagram and other social networks for information about the virus.

Dr. Brockman recommended asking your child, “Hey, have you heard anything about the coronavirus, or do you have any questions?” Be candid that we don’t have all the answers about coronavirus and COVID-19, but that experts are monitoring the situation and staying on top of it.

Keep it simple by reminding them that the same hand-washing habits that prevent flu and other bugs will help keep them free of this virus, Dr. Brockman said.

“If your kids are scared, don’t hesitate to take them to the doctor and let them discuss it with them, or call the physician and see what they think about talking to your kids,” he said.