Children & Youth

Talking to Kids About COVID-19 and Anxiety


The coronavirus outbreak may be causing stress and anxiety for you and your children. As schools close and social distancing becomes the norm, the disruptions in daily life can be a struggle for many. Here’s some advice on how best to support your children and yourself emotionally. 

Assess what they already know.

To start the conversation, it’s important for parents to take a step back and find out what their kids already know about coronavirus. This serves as the jumping-off point for the conversation so that you don’t overwhelm your child with information. Find out what they’ve already heard, how they are feeling, and what questions they have before delving into facts, reassurance, and coping strategies. 

Educate them.

Once you can gauge how they’re feeling, speak honestly and calmly with them about their questions and share the facts about COVID-19 in a way they can understand.

“The best thing that parents can do during a time such as the current pandemic is to model a calm response,” explained Ronald Lee, MD, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Sheppard Pratt. “They should make their best efforts to talk to their child with the big picture in mind, helping their children to continue to be aware of what is happening.” 

Remind them that anxiety is okay.

The coronavirus pandemic is an unprecedented situation for us all, and it’s okay to feel scared or stressed about it. When talking to your child, validate their feelings of anxiety as a normal response and thank them for sharing with you. Then, let your child know they are safe and supported in however they are feeling, and remind them that you are there to help.

Give them a proactive way to protect themselves. 

The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus is by avoiding crowds and washing your hands. Encourage your child to take an active part in calming their own anxiety by practicing good hygiene. Give them a song to sing while they wash their hands to make it more fun and remind them that they are doing their part in reducing spread by keeping hands clean. This provides a sense of control in a seemingly uncontrollable situation. 

The more time you spend with your kids, the more opportunities you have to be a role model for them. Share your own stress relievers and coping strategies with them so they have an idea of how to help themselves. Approach your day with confidence and your children will be more likely to follow suit.  

Take care of yourself, too.

Parents and caretakers are not immune from anxiety – in fact, they may even be more prone to it. With kids watching nearly everything their parents do, it can be hard to quell your own anxieties while supporting the rest of the family. If they see or hear you getting upset about something, they are likely to internalize your stress. Dedicate some time to self-care so that your emotional needs are met as well. 

  • Maintain your health. Eating well, exercising, meditating, and getting plenty of sleep lay the groundwork for happy and healthy parenting.  
  • Ask for help from your partner or family members when you need it. If going out in public to the grocery store causes you anxiety, delegate that task to your spouse with the understanding that staying inside will help you remain calm for your children. 
  • Take social media breaks. Constantly being exposed to the news will cause stress for anyone. 
  • Talk with others. Social distancing makes it hard to feel the support and fellowship of other parents and friends. Make the most of FaceTime and phone calls to connect with others and vent about your concerns. You could even ask friends for advice on how to remain calm and confident.