Talking to Kids About Coronavirus

    17 March 2020

    With schools shutting down and the ways of daily life-changing, children are hearing more about the coronavirus. They may not fully understand it, or know how seriously to take it, but their lives are affected.

    Many parents are trying to decide how to talk with their children about the virus and the outbreak. Some say they are checking in each day to see how their children are doing. But others worry that talking too much about it could make their children more nervous and fearful.

    A playground at Lowell Elementary School in Tacoma, Washington sits empty after school closed because of the coronavirus. Parents are deciding how to talk with their children about the virus.
    A playground at Lowell Elementary School in Tacoma, Washington sits empty after school closed because of the coronavirus. Parents are deciding how to talk with their children about the virus.

    Nicole Poponi is the mother of 10-year-old Clara, and 12-year-old Jane. The family lives in Audubon, New Jersey. She said, "We talk about it a lot. I watch the news every morning, and they're always watching it, too."

    Both girls said they have talked about the virus at school. Jane said her teachers have discussed it during science lessons.

    "I'm not really as scared of it. It's still not even that many people getting sick here," Jane said. "One of my friends is really scared of it, but she's honestly really scared of all diseases."

    Beth Young said she has decided to limit the conversations with her four children. They are ages 8, 10,12, and 15. The family lives in Fort Mill, South Carolina.

    She said she does not want them to be afraid of getting sick, because "kids get sick pretty often." And she does not want them to worry about dying.

    The new coronavirus causes a disease called COVID-19. For most people—including children—it results in only mild or moderate sickness, such as temperature and cough. For others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness —including pneumonia, which affects a person's ability to breathe.

    Most people recover. The World Health Organization (WHO) says that people with minor sickness recover in about two weeks. Those with a more serious case may take three to six weeks to recover.

    Child psychology experts advise parents and others to be calm and positive when discussing the issue with young people. They suggest centering discussions on active steps one can take. They also suggest doing research in order to answer children's questions truthfully.

    Dr. Jamie Howard is a psychologist at the nonprofit Child Mind Institute. She said it is important to reassure children, ask them if they have questions, and tell them how they can stay safe. The institute and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer suggestions on talking with children.

    Some teachers and sports coaches are working to stop the idea that the virus is tied to any group or race. The new coronavirus first appeared in China. Some American adults are staying away from Chinese restaurants and businesses out of fear that they may get the virus.

    Seattle Public Schools in the state of Washington wrote on its website that misinformation has led to fear and anger. The school district's leaders urged students to combat racism and bias.

    "We are aware of reports that some of our Asian students have been targeted and discriminated against in connection to COVID-19," the school leaders wrote. "This is unacceptable."

    Parents should explain that measures such as wearing covers over your mouth and nose and closing schools are preventative and temporary, Dr. Howard said. She urges parents to follow what the television personality Mister Rogers used to say: look to the "helpers"—to see what doctors, teachers, parents and scientists are doing to keep them safe.

    I'm Ashley Thompson.

    Claudia Lauer wrote this story for the Associated Press. Anne Ball adapted the story for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

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    Words in This Story

    scared – adj. afraid of something

    cough – n. a physical condition that makes you force air through your throat in short, loud noise because you are sick

    psychology - n. the science or study of the mind and behavior

    quarantine – n. the period of time during which a person or animal that has a disease or that might have a disease is kept away from others to prevent the disease from spreading

    reassure – v. to make someone feel less afraid

    district - n. an area established by a government for official government business.

    bias – n. a tendency to believe that some people, ideas, etc., are better than others that usually results in treating some people unfairly