fit recently spoke with Dr. Archana Chatterjee, MD, PhD, a specialist in Pediatric Infectious Disease at Sanford Health in Sioux Falls, SD, to discover how adults can honestly and appropriately explain COVID-19 to children.
How would you describe COVID-19 to a concerned child?
“This depends on the age/cognitive level of the child. For very young children or those with impaired cognitive abilities, I would just say that this is a germ that can make some people, mostly those who are old or have other illnesses very sick. Other people may have a cold-like illness, if infected. For older children, the message is essentially the same, but can be expanded a bit to include an explanation of how underlying illnesses can make the virus more serious.
What symptoms can children expect, if they become sick?
“Otherwise healthy children are likely to experience cold and flu-like symptoms – cough, runny nose, fever, or poor appetite. Children who are medically complex could develop more severe illness including pneumonia and respiratory failure.”
What precautions can kids and families take to stay healthy?
“These are the same for everyone. Wash and sanitize your hands frequently. Follow respiratory etiquette and cover your nose and mouth while coughing or sneezing. Avoid touching your face, eyes, nose, or mouth. Avoid close contact with others, especially outside of your household- that includes shaking hands, hugging, and kissing. Stay home if you are not feeling well and follow instructions from your public health authorities.”
Some ideas to consider when speaking with children:
Start with what they know.
• Ask them questions such as, “Have you heard your friends, grownups, or people on the TV talking about a new sickness? What worries do you have about this sickness?” This gives you an understanding of what your child already knows- and an opportunity to correct any misconceptions they might have.
Validate their feelings and offer support.
• Inform your child that it is ok to be nervous or scared, everyone feels this way at times. Remind them that stressful situations come and go and life inevitably goes back to normal. This understanding can help kids become resilient.
• Reassure your kids that there are many grownups who are dedicated to keeping them safe. Discuss the roles of doctors, scientists, teachers and family members.
Give them a sense of control.
• Teach kids simple and specific things they can do to keep the sickness away. Discuss the importance of getting extra sleep and making nutritious food choices. Remind kids that regular hand washing helps stop most viruses from spreading to others.
Encourage them to communicate.
• Praise your child for expressing their feelings and concerns. Assure them you will be available and honest with all of your answers.
More great advice- Dr. Segeleon, Sanford MD and pediatric specialist also suggests "maintaining a positive attitude, modeling good behavior and establishing a routine. Talk to your kids at a level that’s appropriate for their age and development, and monitor their screen time, news and social media consumption."
Contact your healthcare provider if you have questions or concerns about your health.
More questions? Check out the CDC’s recent FAQ article HERE.