Talking to Kids about the Coronavirus

Rev. Deb Koster

March 13, 2020

Coronavirus (COVID-19) currently dominates conversation in the media and our communities. As people debate the appropriate measures to be taken, our kids pick up the anxiety in the room. They may feel worried about their safety, and have misconceptions about how the virus spreads, and wonder who can be affected. As parents, we need to talk honestly with our children and help them gain perspective about the situation. We need to steer them toward rational and open-minded understanding and away from fear, suspicion, and self-interest. We want to model for our children what it really means to trust God for guidance and comfort. This means helping them get the facts straight, move past fear, and turn that fear into prayer. We have to show kids how we will plan ahead and take common sense measures to protect them and everyone else in our communities. Kids need to see that their parents believe the truth of God’s awesome faithfulness; he does not leave us to face crises like Coronavirus alone, but he walks with us through times of trouble.

Explain the Facts

When talking to our kids, parents should start with the facts about Coronavirus. A guide for parents, developed by the National Association of School Psychologists and National Association of School Nurses, explains the symptoms and transmission of COVID-19. The guide stresses that when kids ask questions, we should give them honest answers. “In the absence of factual information, children often imagine situations far worse than reality,” it reads.

We encourage you to review the entire article, but here are key facts about Coronavirus to share with your children:

  • COVID-19 is a virus that has been making some people sick in different countries around the world, including our own.
  • It may be present in droplets after someone who has been infected coughs or sneezes.
  • Good hand washing and keeping surfaces clean can help prevent the spread of the virus.
  • If the virus makes someone sick, they usually have a fever, cough, and may feel short of breath. For some people these symptoms may be mild, but others might need to go to the hospital.
  • Anyone who might have been around someone who is sick or has been exposed to the virus is encouraged to stay away from other people for 14 days to help avoid passing the virus to more people.

Move Past Fear

More than anything else scripture commands that we “Fear not.” God is still in control of the world and we can trust him. Children know that sometimes even Mom and Dad are afraid. Social media and the global news cycle have brought the crisis right to our door, and cases of the virus might already be present in our communities. Children need both an honest statement of the unpredictability of our lives and constant reassurance of God’s faithfulness in our lives. We don’t know who might get sick, but we know that God loves us and he is in control. Our faith permits us to both see the facts and be assured of God’s goodness.

Practical Prevention Reduces Fear

One way to battle fear is to have a practical prevention plan that your children can understand. Stay informed about basic protective measures against the Coronavirus. Take this opportunity to teach your children about the importance of basic sanitary tasks. Washing your hands does not guarantee against infections. However, it will provide a stronger first defense against illness.

Here is some advice for the public from the World Health Organization:

    1. We should all wash our hands much more often and get in the habit of washing for at least 20 seconds. Remind kids to wash when they come into the house, before eating, and after using the bathroom, blowing their noses, or touching anything dirty. Washing helps eliminate viruses that may be on our hands and helps us avoid infection that could occur by touching your eyes, mouth, or nose. When you can’t wash, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to kill the germs.
    2. We need to stay home from work, school, and even church if we don't feel well. Model this behavior and encourage your children to do the same. Self-quarantine is an act of love for our neighbors, especially those at greater risk, like the elderly or immunosuppressed.
    3. In public gatherings like church or school, encourage everyone to give each other plenty of space. Show kindness to one another from a distance. Smiles really help when things feel uncertain. Call or text those you haven’t seen for a while.
    4. Encourage kids to help with the increased cleaning chores to help reduce the transmission of viruses. Use disinfectant to wipe down frequently used surfaces, including phones, remotes, light switches, computers, toys, chairs, and tabletops.
    5. If you have been exposed to the virus, choose to be responsible and self-quarantine for two weeks to prevent passing the virus along to others. Even if you don’t feel sick, it is better to play it safe than risk making others sick. For kids, this will mean being patient when they can’t see friends or have to miss out on special events.

    Address Racial Fears and Scapegoating

    Xenophobic rhetoric associating a particular people group with a disease is not new in our culture. Pandemics that originate outside North America, such as SARS in China or Ebola in West Africa, get more scrutiny. Get ahead of any racist fear, misinformation, or jokes toward people from Asian countries, particularly China. Children and teens may see online posts that single out people of Asian descent as potential carriers of Coronavirus. Not only does this language hurt and bully innocent people, but also trying to find a “scapegoat” for a global health crisis is counterproductive. Additionally, it is important to talk with our kids about false narratives concerning the virus. A lot of misinformed and false ideas are making the rounds on social media. Avoid placing blame on a person or group for what is clearly not in anyone’s control. Let’s support any minorities that are being singled out, give children the tools to stop hate speech, and take this opportunity to talk about respect for others.

    Turn Fears Into Prayers

    We actually get to choose whether we focus on our fears or on our God of healing. Let’s encourage our children to choose to focus on God and his care for us as his children. We need to model for our kids what we do with our fears: we take our concerns to God and trust him to work out his plan for us. Encourage your children to actually voice their fears to God. Psalm 46 reminds us that God is our refuge and strength and a very present help in trouble. Because God is in charge, we do not have to be afraid, no matter what is happening in the world around us. Romans 8:35-39 reminds us that there is nothing that will ever separate us from the love of God. Because we believe these things, prayer should be our default. When a concern comes to mind, demonstrate for your kids how to release it with prayer. Meet each fear with the truth of scripture; recite God’s promises each time worry tries to interrupt your thoughts.

    Before talking about fear and courage with your children, talk to God about your own fears and ask him for guidance to help you address your children's fears.

    Tell of God’s Faithfulness

    We all carry a testimony of God's faithful provision in our lives. Remember how God has cared for you in the past, and pass those great stories of God’s love along to your children.

    Paul speaks about this idea in 1 Corinthians 1:3-4. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in trouble with the comfort we ourselves received from God.” Comfort your children with stories about how you trusted God in challenging times in your life, and use the Bible to talk about fear and courage.

    • Tell your child stories about times when you felt anxious or afraid. What was that like for you? What did you do? What did God do?
    • Talk about people in the Bible who still trusted and obeyed God, even when they were afraid. Gideon, for example, was fearful at every step in his walk with God, but he always told God about his fear.
    • Memorize Bible verses about fear together. Consider these:
      • Psalm 34:4 - I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.
      • Psalm 46:1 - God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
      • 2 Timothy 1:7 - For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power.
    • Suggest your kids recite a Bible verse or sing a song each time they wash their hands; it is a great way to stay engaged for the required 20 seconds needed for handwashing to be effective.

    Talk openly about fear and courage. When you pray with your child about fear, be honest in naming what is scary. Demonstrate and teach how to turn to God for everything, including dealing with fear. God is bigger than any challenge that we face, including Coronavirus. He is still our refuge and our strength. The Coronavirus has caused a lot of fear on a global but also personal level. Let's make sure to take practical steps—including practices, conversations, and most importantly faith —to reduce the concerns of the children around us. Let's take this opportunity to build faith, not fear.

    Posted in: Parenting

    About the author — Rev. Deb Koster

    Deb Koster is a producer, writer, and speaker for Family Fire. She is also an Innkeeper at The Parsonage Inn in Grand Rapids, MI where she leads marriage retreat on weekends. After over 20 years as a Registered Nurse, she completed a Master of Divinity degree and was ordained as a pastor in the Christian Reformed Church. Deb and her husband Steven enjoy doing ministry together and they are the parents of three awesome young adults.

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