Parent talking to child about COVID-19 drawing

During these uncertain times, with information changing each day, it can be difficult for you to know what to say to children and teens.

Our Child Life team offers these tips to support you as you help your children cope with what’s happening in their world:  

Be aware of your own stress.  

  • Children of all ages follow your cues and pick up on your stress. Even infants can sense stress around them.    
  • Take a break, go for a walk, or do whatever you need to do to promote your own positive coping before you sit down to talk to your child. 

Start by asking what your child already knows.

  • What have they heard? What do they understand?  
  • Be present and give your full attention.  

Provide honest, developmentally appropriate, accurate information.  

  • To children and teens, knowledge is power. Children may sometimes imagine things to be far worse than they are.  
  • Be calm and offer reassurance.  
  • Don’t go into more detail than your child is asking for at this time.  
  • It’s okay to say you don’t know the answer to a question. Tell your child you’ll try to find an answer so you can address the question later.  
  • Be empathetic and acknowledge that COVID-19 can be a source of sadness and frustration because of the way it changes all of the things that feel normal, like school and being with friends. Make it clear that all feelings are okay.  
  • Expect this to be an ongoing conversation. Encourage your child to come to you with questions. 

Promote positive coping.  

  • Consider setting limits on social media and television. Even for adults, the amount available can be overwhelming.  
  • Model the same positive coping you’re recommending to your child. Go for a walk outside, take a deep breath, color, take a break.  
  • Consider what your children can control and provide them with choices. Can they choose which school work to do first or which to save for last? Can they choose what’s for dinner?
  • Many families benefit from having a schedule. With schools closed, the daily routine is different. Consider whether adding some structure would help the day feel more normal.
  • Explore online resources such as virtual concerts or virtual field trips to museums. You may be able to find free access to resources that usually cost money.
  • Make a plan as a family to get through this time together.  
  • Make time for play! Play is how kids learn and understand their world.

More Information

If you need further help, consult the recommendations and resources compiled.

The Child Life specialists at University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital understand that this is a difficult time for many families. If you’d like to share ideas for practices that you’ve found helpful in talking with your children about COVID-19, please reach out to Racheal Niensteadt, our Child Life Program Interim Manager: