How to Answer Your Child’s Questions About the Pandemic

Ask us; we are here to help.

Posted Apr 23, 2020

 Evgeny Atamenko/Shutterstock
Source: Evgeny Atamenko/Shutterstock

By Sheryl Silverstein, Ph.D.

Suddenly, parents are inundated with difficult questions from their kids about the pandemic. “Why can’t I play with my friends?” “When can I go back to school?” “How long is this going to last?” These questions can create a lot of anxiety in parents who are wondering the same things themselves.

We would like to present you with some simple answers to these questions. The questions your child asks and how you respond depend on their age and stage of development.

Please feel free to respond to this blog post with any additional questions you might have, and we’ll answer you!

Questions from toddlers: Age 2 to 5

Toddler’s concerns are primarily about their safety and the safety of their parents. They may need to be reassured repeatedly or frequently to help them feel safe.

Question 1: What is coronavirus?

Answer: It’s a bunch of germs that make people sick, like a cold or ear infection. It spreads easily. That is why everyone is staying home and why there is no school or playdates; so, people can’t give it to anyone else or catch it from others.

Question 2: I’m scared to go to bed. What if you get the virus while I’m sleeping and go to the hospital or die?

Answer: Mommy and Daddy are keeping themselves safe and you safe by staying home. If we have to go to the grocery store, we wear gloves and face masks to protect ourselves and then we wash our hands when we come home. We protect ourselves and we protect you from getting sick. We are all safe.

Questions from middle-school-age children: Age 6 to 10 years

Middle school-age children are very focused on school and learning, rules, and friends. Due to the severe disruptions of their everyday routines, it is reassuring to children for parents to create weekly routines. Predictability and feeling in control come with having this kind of external structure and having this structure and stability communicate safety.

Question 1: Why is this virus different than the one I got last year? We didn’t have to do any of this then. Why is everything closed?

Answer: It’s different because this virus is new, very contagious, and can make some people very sick. It seems to affect people differently. That is why everything is closed. We have to stay home until the virus mostly goes away. 

Question 2: I miss school, seeing my friends, and playing soccer. How long is this going to last? I’m so bored!

Answer: Of course, you miss all the things you are used to doing. So many big changes. But this is temporary. As soon as it’s safe to return to school, have playdates and play soccer, we will tell you. Right now, it’s at least one more month of waiting.

Questions from adolescents: 11-18 years of age

Teenagers are struggling with a rapidly changing body, brain, and hormonal changes that affect mood, impulses, and judgment. They have a know-it-all mindset and an immortal sense of themselves as being immune from danger--which may place them at risk based on how they behave during the pandemic. However, contact with their friends is important, so spending reasonable time on social media should be permitted to combat the loneliness that comes from social distancing.

Question 1: Get off my case! I can hang with my friends. Nobody my age gets it. Why do I have to stay home?

Answer: That’s not true. Young people can get this virus and get very sick. Even if they have no symptoms, they can be carriers and infect family members. That is why having to shelter in place applies to everyone, not just older people.

Question 2: Why do you keep telling me about this virus? I know all about it. 

Answer: Please check your sources. Some of what you are saying is inaccurate. Here are links to reliable websites that have information about COVID-19.

These are just a few of the questions you’re beginning to be asked by your children. We’d love to hear more questions from you and we will answer them in the comments.

About the author: Sheryl Silverstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in Connecticut and a child/adult psychoanalyst in training. She is an assistant clinical professor at Yale University, Department of Psychiatry. She also co-chairs the Association for Child Psychoanalysis Social Issues Committee, whose members are child analysts and will be responding to the questions from this post.