COVID 19 Blog Post | MetroWest YMCA

How to Talk to Your Children About COVID-19 and What to Do While You Wait

Mar 19, 2020

By Sally Sweitzer, MetroWest YMCA Director of Inclusion

Coping with COVID-19

As we all try to navigate through the impact of COVID-19, we are living through something with no manual, no guide. The situation changes daily, even hourly and it is very unsettling for us all, but especially for our children, who are looking to us for guidance and answers. As a starting point please remember to “put your own oxygen mask on first” and prioritize your own self-care. These are very stressful times and it is important that we manage our own stress and anxiety, and model for our children that we are doing that for ourselves. Children need to feel safe and secure, and a first step is knowing that their parents are okay. Do things that relax and center you like taking a walk in nature, reading, lighting candles, putting on soothing music, laughing with a friend on FaceTime, or enjoying a hobby – your lead on this sets a tone for relaxation in your heart and in your home.

We are fighting two battles here. One is the COVID-19 virus and the other is the rising anxiety about COVID-19. This virus is very mild for most children who contract it but the anxiety surrounding the virus can be quite debilitating for them. Talking about the virus and creating a feeling of safety with your four-year-old, is very different from talking to your school aged child. Here are a few tips for talking with your child and supporting them in their worries and fears based on their age and stage of development.

All children need to feel SAFE.

As parents or caregivers we need to stay calm and be aware of too much media exposure at home. Resist the temptation to have the TV on all the time with constant news about COVID-19, it is not healthy for anyone, no matter their age. Consider getting an update in the morning and again in the evening and in between, spend time establishing a new, temporary normal for you and your children.

Preschool aged children experience video or photographic content as something that is happening right in the moment, in their present reality. This can be really scary for them, so keep the TV and radio news off, and newspaper and magazine covers shielded from their site. Give them simple and honest answers and don’t lie to them. A preschool aged child may or may not have an awareness of COVID-19. The best strategy is to let them lead the conversation, answer their questions and don’t give them any more information than they are asking you for – they will ask for what they want and need to know. Remember to check your own state of mind when you talk to your child – if you seem anxious and stressed, then they will feel that way too. Use a calm, positive tone and keep it simple. For example, if your four-year-old asks “What is the coronavirus?”  You might say “The coronavirus is made of tiny germs that can make you sick if you touch them, that’s’ why, just like when we don’t want to get a cold, we wash our hands with warm water and sing the Happy Birthday two times to make the germs go away. “If your preschooler asks why they can’t go to Chucky Cheese, you can say “When there are a lot of people, there are more of these germs, so right now we are taking a break from going to the Early Learning Center/school, or places where there are lots of people so we can stay healthy and safe. If your child expresses a fear of contracting the virus you can say “if you did get this virus, nothing bad would happen. You might feel a little bit yucky and then I would take good care of you and you would feel better really fast, just like when you get a little cold. After all these germs go away, we can go back to school and see all our friends again. But don’t worry! We know what we need to do to keep these germs away and we are doing it!”

School aged children will have more questions and need more information depending on their age. Again, let their concerns and questions lead the discussion, be honest and help them to feel safe and in control. Children need to feel a sense of power and this is a really good time to let them have it. You can empower your child by asking them to partner with you to keep those germs away by washing hands with hot soapy water and singing the first verse of their favorite song while they do it. You can tell your school aged child that kids seem to be like superheroes when it comes to COVID-19 and the germs just don’t seem to stick to them! Remind them to wipe down their devices a few times a day and sneeze or cough into their elbow. Tell your school aged child that you know exactly what to do to keep them safe and your family is doing it! Remind them that this is all temporary and eventually things will get back to normal. If they ask a question, just answer it and then ask, “Do you have any more questions?” They may not want or need any more information – remember that what you need to know, may not be what they need to know.

Another tip for talking with any child about COVID-19 is to avoid using language that blames race, animals or culture for the spread of the virus. We want to lead with compassion and not spread ideas which create a climate fear. None of us know exactly what to expect, but we do know some things. We know we will not be seeing all the people we usually see and that we will have to find creative ways to pass the time while we are all stuck at home. We know that everything is suddenly different, and we have the opportunity to develop new routines and habits. Leading with empathy and compassion is a really good start. When it comes to our children remember that it is incredibly important to allow them to express ALL their feelings and emotions. It is equally important that we receive these feelings with empathy. If your child has an extra temper tantrum right now, let them have it and then when the storm you can say something like “I know you have a lot of really big feelings right now, it is okay to let them out.” For children of all ages, if their fears and frustrations are minimized or dismissed those feelings are going to show up in other ways like fighting with siblings, pushing back against authority, increased tantrums and behaviors that seem out of character for your child. Just love them through this, that will make them feel safe and when children feel safe, they act out less – this is one fact that does not change with the arrival of COVID-19. If your child is scared, reassure them, if they are disappointed and frustrated, validate those feelings and say something affirming like, “I know how disappointed you must be not being able to have your dance recital, you have been working so hard on it for so long”. We cannot always fix everything for our children, but we can give them love and attention and acknowledgment that they, just like their parents are going through an uncertain and upsetting time right now. As our CEO Rick MacPherson is known to say, “Lead with your heart and we will get through this together”.

What to do while we wait…

We will get through this. Remind you children and yourself of this often. But what can we do while we wait at home with our children? Take this time to slow life down, and make some positive changes to your routines and habits. Be together in a connected and authentic way – everyone will find comfort in this. Below are some ideas for your time at home with your children. These ideas can be adapted depending on your child’s age and interests. Here goes:

  • Read to your child, even older children like to be read to – there is nothing like snuggling up with your child and a good book!
  • If you are not a big reader or just for another way to experience the power of books, you can also find read alouds for your child on the internet in many places including the YMCA website, the School’s Out Facebook page, or the YMCA’s YouTube channel.
  • YouTube is a great place to find fun DIY projects and activities to do with your child. Our School’s Out staff team is posting live DIY projects on their Facebook page and so are many others. Explore the internet and social media – now is a time when it is being used for some good purposes!
  • Cook! We all need to eat, and children of all ages enjoy heling in the kitchen. Teach them to cook a family favorite or try something new together!
  • Dance! Put on music and dance like crazy – let everybody pick a favorite song, so you are sharing and showing interest in what your children like – and just dance. It is great exercise and great fun.
  • Take a walk in the sunshine! You can walk and talk with your older children, and make it fun for younger ones by looking for shapes or colors, or sign of spring. How many squirrels can you count? Play the alphabet game – look for letters starting with A. None of these activities require touching anything, you are suing your eyes and your voice to have fun!
  • Encourage your children to play outside if you have a yard or courtyard. Fresh air is healthy and vital for us all!
  • Play board games and card games. Play with Duplo’s, blocks or playdough with your younger child. As parents we are often feeling too harried to sit and just play with our children, but our time and attention is absolutely the greatest gift we can give to our children and now we all have more time to give it!
  • Encourage your older children to have appropriate contact with their friends though social media or on Zoom or FaceTime. Zoom is a great platform for connecting with multiple people and you can get a free version which will allow 40-minute group video chats. After the 40 minute you can always get off and then get back on! Paid versions of Zoom allow for unlimited time. School aged children crave and need to have connection with their peers. If you have strict rules about screen time, this may be a time to allow them to do this a bit more frequently.
  • On this website you can actually interact with museum exhibits and works of art. Check it out, it is quite amazing.
  • Below is a list of other internet-based opportunities for you and your child:

1). Switcheroo Zoo

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What it does: Helps them learn about animals by watching, listening and playing games.

2). Nat Geo for Kids

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What it does: Kids learn about geography and fascinating animals.

3). Into the Book

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What it does: Through playing games, kids can practice reading strategies.

4). Seussville

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What it does: Allows kids to hang out with Dr. Seuss and his friends, all while playing games and reading.

5). ABC YA

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What it does: Allows kids to practice math and reading skills.

6). Fun Brain


What it does: Helps kid practice math and reading while playing games.

7). PBS Kids

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What it does: Kids can learn while hanging out with their favorite PBS characters.

8). Star Fall

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What it does: Students can practice their phonics skills with read-along stories.

9). Storyline online

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What it does: Movie stars read their favorite stories to kids.

10). Highlights Kids

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What it does: Allows kids to read, play games, learn random facts and do activities such as crafts and recipes.

We hope this article has been helpful to you in some way. Please remember that the MetroWest YMCA is still here. You can reach out to us by phone or through email. If you have needs of any kind, please let us know. We are still here to help. So, hold on tight to your children and stay healthy and safe. Remember the old adage “this too shall pass.”