COVID-19 Town Hall: Talking to your children about the virus

Posted on 9 April 2020 at 7:59pm

KOMU 8's Emily Spain talked with a family communications expert about how to talk to your children about the COVID-19 pandemic.

Colleen Colander is an associate professor for the University of Missouri in the communications department. She specializes in family communication and how a child communicates with their relatives among other things. 

With COVID-19 changing our routines, canceling school and events, many children have questions and concerns. Below is Colander's advice on how to have those conversations.

Q: What's your advice for how to talk to your child about COVID-19?

"So, children know that things are changing and even little ones are picking up on a lot of shifts and so, I think it's really important to just give them some information and tell them, you know, 'We have this really big virus that is affecting things and things are changing, but we are doing everything that we can to keep you safe.'" 

Q: What lessons can you communicate with your child during this pandemic?

"Well, I always think about what Mr. Rogers said about looking for the helpers. And the doctors and the scientists are the helpers right now. They're helping us understand what this virus is and how we can best protect ourselves. And, then also we get to be part of that as well. We get to be helpers. We're helping by staying home, and by washing our hands really, really well."

Q: How do you answer your child's questions about the virus?

"We need to avoid telling them that they don't need to worry about it. They're worried about it, they are picking up that things have changed and so I think that we need to give them information, and we need to really emphasize the positives when we give them that information."

"So, we should give them accurate medical advice, and we should do it in a really straightforward manner. It's really important for us to avoid euphemisms right now or unclear language, we might say, 'There's a bug going around, that's making everybody feel sick,' and they might actually think about like a literal bug. So, I think being accurate in our information saying, 'There's a virus and the virus is making people sick, and we're working really hard to find a way to help people get better.'"

Q: How do you handle your child's worries and anxieties during this time?

"So, kids do worry and kids do have anxiety and, you know, it's important to just acknowledge that and tell them like, 'You are pretty worried right now. I understand why you're worried. It makes sense to me.' And, maybe this is a chance for us to model some of our own coping mechanisms. We can tell our children, 'When I feel worried it really helps me feel better if I go on a walk, or if I call a friend, what helps you feel better?' And, help them come up with age appropriate, child centered ways of expressing their feelings in positive ways."

If you're concerned about your child's anxiety, Colander recommends reaching out to FACE of Boone County for more information on resources and referrals for help.