Learning About the Coronavirus: Resources for Children and Families
March 31, 2020
The coronavirus pandemic can be especially scary for children. With schools closed, friends kept away, and many parents now at home or working and potentially risking their health, their worlds changed completely in just a few weeks.
According to guidelines for split families navigating life during the outbreak, a group representing divorce and family attorneys said that for many children, “the strange days of the pandemic will leave vivid memories.”
Younger children may panic overhearing updates on the coronavirus death toll, because they may lack the ability to understand the extent of COVID-19’s risk to themselves and their families, according to a report from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Older children, though better equipped to follow the news and research the coronavirus online, may still need context and perspective to make sense of these events.
Children of all ages tend to pick up on the fear of those around them. Without reassurance, they may become overwhelmed or anxious.
Parents and guardians play an essential role in supporting children through this crisis. The following resources offer guidance to help maintain children’s sense of security, regulate their emotions, and build healthy habits as a family.
A project sponsored by Save the Children, #SaveWithStories features trustee Jennifer Garner, fellow actor Amy Adams, and their friends reading children’s books aloud on Instagram and Facebook Stories. Developed in partnership with No Kid Hungry, the stories feature musicians, actors, athletes, and more. Recent books include “Mae Among the Stars” read by Kerry Washington, written by Roda Ahmed, and illustrated by Stasia Burrington, and “Just In Case You Ever Wonder” written and read by Max Lucado and illustrated by Eve Tharlet.
Tim and Moby of BrainPOP explore the coronavirus in this five-minute video for kids. They explain how the virus infects the body, how the outbreak became a pandemic, and how to stop its spread. The video also covers practicing social distancing, finding credible information online, and dealing with scary coronavirus news.
“Sesame Street” characters Elmo and Rosita and their friends sing a song about how to sneeze to avoid spreading germs. Developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, this video is also offered in Spanish.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides fact sheets to help families understand how and when to wash their hands. “Handwashing at Home, at Play, and Out and About” is appropriate for older children, and “Handwashing: Keeping Your Family Healthy” provides guidance for parents teaching their children. English Handwashing (PDF, 1.33 MB) and Spanish Handwashing (PDF, 2.33 MB) versions are available.
NPR deputy editor Malaka Gharib created a comic to help children understand the coronavirus definition and coronavirus symptoms, as well as how to prevent spreading it. The information is based on interviews with health experts and can be printed out and folded into a booklet.
Through its Healing and Education Through the Arts program for children living in stressful environments, Save the Children offers six exercises to help kids feel more relaxed during the coronavirus pandemic. Appropriate for one child or a group of children, all but one of the exercises require no additional materials.
New York Times reporter Jessica Grose answers parents’ frequently asked questions about how the coronavirus pandemic affects their daily lives. Topics covered include taking children to public spaces and transportation, whether to keep scheduled well visits, and how to handle grandparent visits.
The Child Mind Institute offers a page of resources for parents, including daily health tips from clinicians and advice on practicing mindfulness, self-care, and healthy coping skills during the coronavirus pandemic.
Before trying to explain coronavirus-related terms to children, parents should ensure they understand the definitions for themselves. The New York Times offers a glossary defining many of the common phrases in the coronavirus news cycle, including COVID-19, quarantine, state of emergency, and incubation.
Kids Health gives parents 14 tips for discussing the coronavirus with children. The strategy involves balancing honesty with comfort and reassurance. For example, parents can watch the news with older children to help filter what they hear. The article is also available in Spanish.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America offers guidance for parents of children and adolescents specifically struggling with anxiety around COVID-19. Written by a psychiatrist for children, adolescents, and adults, the article covers active listening, emotional validation, and relaxation strategies.
The CDC provides fact-based talking points for parents, educators, and caregivers to answer questions children may have about the coronavirus. Phrased in age-appropriate language, they are fact-based but not scary and help maintain the child’s sense of safety. Questions include “What happens if you get sick with COVID-19” and “What can I do so that I don’t get COVID-19?”
Supporting Children’s Well-Being and Countering Anxiety
Dealing with the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic can be especially trying for children and adolescents in recovery from an eating disorder. They may struggle with the changes in routine required by social distancing, the unavailability of familiar foods, or the conversations around at-home workouts and stockpiling groceries. Eating Recovery Center offers a resource page for families on finding virtual support and managing overwhelming emotions and anxiety.
Children with past traumatic experiences or pre-existing mental, physical, or developmental concerns are more likely to experience emotional disturbances as the coronavirus pandemic upends their worlds. Child Trends interviewed child trauma experts on how to protect children’s emotional health during the pandemic, particularly for those at higher risk.
Social distancing and quarantine are challenging for any family but may be especially difficult for those with divorced or separated parents. The Association of Family and Conciliation Courts and the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers released a joint statement of guidelines on coronavirus for split families with parents sharing custody on communicating well and providing structure for their children.