Talking to kids about COVID-19

Kid-friendly answers about new variants, continued safety measures and more

A girl in a rainbow face mask looks out the window on a cloudy day.

The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed our daily lives. As an adult, it can feel completely overwhelming. Now imagine you’re a child. Specifically, a child who is experiencing a change in routine, a different style of learning, limited interaction with their peers, missed family events, or feeling a profound loss of security and safety. Unfortunately, this is the norm for many children today.

Kids need grown-ups, now more than ever. They need your calm presence and deserve honest, age-appropriate answers to their questions. This information can help them to better understand and positively cope with what’s happening all around them.

Sanford Fit recently spoke with Natalie Dvorak, M.D., a pediatric physician at Sanford Health in Moorhead, Minnesota, to discover how adults can provide current and honest answers to some of kids’ most common questions concerning COVID-19.

What is COVID-19?

“COVID-19, also known as coronavirus or SARS-CoV-2, is a virus that infects the respiratory tract including the nose, throat, and lungs. It is a new virus discovered in December 2019 and has spread throughout the world.”

What will happen if I get sick?

“The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, dry cough, and fatigue. Other possible symptoms include sore throat, runny nose, body aches, headache, loss of taste and smell, vomiting, or diarrhea. More severe symptoms of COVID-19 are breathing difficulty, pneumonia, and low oxygen, which can lead to hospitalization and even death.”

What can I do to keep myself and others safe and healthy?

“Vaccination is the single most effective tool we have to prevent illness and stop the spread of COVID-19. COVID-19 vaccines are available for everyone 5 years and older. It is also important to wash your hands, wear a face covering, and social distance. If you have sick symptoms, get tested for COVID-19 and avoid contact with others.”

I’m not sick. Why do I have to take precautions?

“Taking precautions may prevent you from getting sick with COVID-19, keeps you healthy, and prevents the spread of the virus to others. Even if you have a mild illness, you may spread it to someone that will get very sick. Now with the delta variant, the virus is spread more easily making more people sick and overwhelming our health care systems. By taking precautions, you help protect your loved ones, friends, neighbors, and community members.”

Wondering where to start, or how to support kids throughout this discussion? Here are some tips:

Start with what they know.

Ask questions such as “Have you heard friends, grown-ups, or people on TV talking about a sickness called COVID-19?” “What worries do you have about this?” This gives you an understanding of what your child already knows — and if there are any misconceptions you can alleviate.

Validate their feelings and offer support.

Inform your child that it is OK to feel nervous or scared. Then, offer empathy and understanding.

Reassure children that there are many grown-ups who are dedicated to keeping them safe. Discuss the roles of doctors, scientists, teachers, and family members.

For older kids, remind them that local and national community health and government leaders are also working hard to prevent the spread of this disease.

Give them a sense of control.

Teach kids simple and specific things they can do to keep the sickness away. Discuss the importance of handwashing, wearing a face covering, and social distancing. Reinforce that these actions may help to stop the sickness from spreading.

Encourage them to communicate.

Praise your child for expressing their feelings and concerns. Assure them you will be available to give them honest answers to all of their questions.

Information in this article was accurate when it was posted. As the COVID-19 pandemic changes, scientific understanding and guidelines may have changed since the original publication date.

Learn more

Posted In Children's, Coronavirus, Frequently Asked Questions, Immunizations, Parenting