2020 News Stories

Tips for Parents: How to Talk to Your Child About COVID-19

Mother and son hugging at home

Published April 3, 2020

Uncertain times can leave parents feeling uneasy about how to talk to their child about what’s going on in the world, and the COVID-19 pandemic is no exception. As schools across the country close to help prevent the spread of the virus, parents may find their child experiencing new emotions and looking for someone to talk to about their feelings.

Cynthia Topdemir, PhD, an instructor in USF’s Counselor Education program, served as a school counselor in Pasco County Schools for 14 years prior to joining the university. Below, she shares some strategies and resources for parents and educators to use while talking about the coronavirus with their children.

What might parents find challenging about speaking with their child about COVID-19?

Parents may find it difficult to explain what is going on to young children, Dr. Topdemir says, especially if their child misses and wants to go back to school.

“It is important to talk about it though,” Dr. Topdemir says. “Not talking about it will heighten their fears or anxiety.”

Missing their regular activities could also have a child relying on their parents to provide more structure for their day.

“It may be challenging to stick to a schedule, but structure is important for children and will give them a sense of routine,” Dr. Topdemir says. “Having a set schedule of schoolwork, exercise, meals, free time, and bedtime will be helpful.

What strategies are most useful for parents when speaking with their child about the pandemic?

It’s important for parents to stay calm, Dr. Topdemir says. Your child will see your response and how you are coping and respond in a similar way.

“Encourage children to share what they are thinking and feeling about what is going on,” Dr. Topdemir says. “Clarify any misconceptions about the virus and explain that there are ways to stay safe. With older children, have honest and factual conversations. They will feel a sense of control by ‘having the facts.’”

Dr. Topdemir also recommends that parents learn about some of the common signs of childhood stress, such as trouble focusing or having different emotions such as anger, sadness or anxiety. Additionally, she says, a child’s behavior may also regress.

What should parents avoid saying or doing to help keep their child healthy and calm?

Be mindful of the news, social media, or other news outlets. When children are hearing about COVID-19 constantly, it will increase their anxiety and Dr. Topdemir says limiting your child’s screen time on television or other devices can help alleviate negative emotions.

Dr. Topdemir also encourages parents to practice self-care to ensure they’re at their best while supporting their children.

“Don’t ignore your own anxiety or stress levels,” she says. “Take time to relax, go for a walk and play outside with your children. This will model good coping skills.”

Here are some additional resources recommended by faculty in the USF College of Education:

For Parents:

For Educators: