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Children & COVID-19: What Parents Should Know

Basic hygiene and turning off screens should be your go to moves

As parents, our first thoughts when we hear heightened reports of a new and potentially lethal virus is for our children.

Are my kids in danger?

Viruses like flu often hit the young, old, and vulnerable hardest. Reports of school closings increase our anxiety.

Fortunately, current reports from the Center for Disease Control suggest kids are doing better than adults in coping with the novel coronavirus associated with Covid-19.

I am not a medical doctor and refer you to experts – like the CDC or the World Health Organization for updates on how to best protect yourself from the virus.

What I am an expert in is parenting. What we know about parenting during times of heightened anxiety and crisis is that children look to their parents for stability and security. For young children, their sense of security – or their sense of fear – will come from you. So how you respond is critical.

Project calm, safety, and let them know you're there for them. Studies going back to World War II show that during times of uncertainty, kids look to parents for cues about how to feel.

Let’s Talk Common Sense

One important role of parents is to teach children to protect themselves. In this case, the message from healthcare experts and epidemiologists is clear: employ best practices for hygiene:

  • Wash your hands frequently, especially before eating or touching your face
  • Avoid close contact with others – and yes, their hands are probably the germiest part too, so avoid shaking hands
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Stay home if you’re sick

These are things we parents should always be teaching. This is also a great time to double down on basic habits like washing hands after using the bathroom and before eating.

This is also a good time to enforce some lifetime good habits:

  • Wash hands after blowing noses
  • Immediately toss those tissues
  • Use your elbow to cover your nose while coughing or sneezing like a vampire
Creative Commons/Wiki How
Vampire Sneezes
Source: Creative Commons/Wiki How

Little Pitchers Have Big Ears

One of my very first blogs for Psychology Today was called Little Pitchers Have Big Ears.

It makes one basic point: Kids listen to the news too. When you watch a video or run the TV or radio in the background, you may be able to tune it out and put the news in context, but your kids can’t.

This came front and center to me when my eldest was just a toddler. We were driving in the car. The first Iraq war had just started. We were concerned for many reasons, and the radio was on constantly.

Suddenly I hear my young son becoming hysterical in the back seat. The radio was airing a story about the Kuwait Zoo and the animals left bereft by the war. I just remember something about a camel. To me, it was another tragic human interest story. To my son, it was heartbreaking.

I’ve seen the same thing again and again – 9/11, Challenger, tornadoes, shootings, and now this new virus. Children’s ability to understand tragedy and put it in context is less developed than our own. Unfiltered media played in the background is not in their best interest.

Now, when the news is full of worry, I try to listen or read or watch, but I spend just enough time to know what’s going on, not background listening. We are very mindful of little ones who might be listening in the background. Even if they don’t know the words, they understand the emotional tone. Frankly, it's good for my emotional health too.

The Bottom Line?

Just three big points for protecting your kids from this novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19

  • Your kids trust you. If you stay calm and teach them to protect themselves, they'll feel okay. Your reactions are how they interpret the world.
  • Use this as a teaching opportunity. This is a great time to reinforce basic hygiene we should all be practicing all the time. You can also use this as a great time for modeling good media consumption behavior. Go to trusted sources like the CDC and WHO and listen to experts, not random people you bump into on the web.
  • Be conscious of media in the background. Keeping informed is important. More information is not necessarily better than good basic information. Carefully monitor what your children are exposed to. You are a better conduit of information than unfiltered news in the background.