• Talking to Children about COVID-19 (Caronavirus): A Parent Resource

    (Adapted from the National Association of School Psychologist Parent Hand out)

    A new type of coronavirus, abbreviated COVID-19, is causing an outbreak of respiratory (lung) disease. It was first detected in China and has now been detected locally.

    Concern over this new virus can make children and families anxious. Acknowledging some level of concern, without panicking, is appropriate and can result in taking actions that reduce the risk of illness. Helping children cope with anxiety requires providing accurate prevention information and facts without causing undue alarm.

    It is very important to remember that children look to adults for guidance on how to react to stressful events. If parents seem overly worried, children’s anxiety may rise. Parents should reassure children that health and school officials are working hard to ensure that people throughout the country stay healthy. However, children also need factual, age appropriate information about the potential seriousness of disease risk and concrete instruction about how to avoid infections and spread of disease. Teaching children positive preventive measures, talking with them about their fears, and giving them a sense of some control over their risk of infection can help reduce anxiety.

    Specific Guidelines

    Remain calm and reassuring.

    • Children will react to and follow your verbal and nonverbal reactions.
    • What you say and do about COVID-19, current prevention efforts, and related events can either increase or decrease your children’s anxiety.
    • If true, emphasize to your children that they and your family are fine.
    • Remind them that you and the adults at their school are there to keep them safe and healthy.
    • Let your children talk about their feelings and help reframe their concerns into the appropriate perspective.

    Make yourself available.

    • Children may need extra attention from you and may want to talk about their concerns, fears, and questions.
    • It is important that they know they have someone who will listen to them; make time for them.
    • Tell them you love them and give them plenty of affection. 

    Avoid excessive blaming.

    • When tensions are high, sometimes we try to blame someone.
    • It is important to avoid stereotyping any one group of people as responsible for the virus. 
    • Bullying or negative comments made toward others should be stopped and reported to the school.
    • Be aware of any comments that other adults are having around your family. You may have to explain what comments mean if they are different than the values that you have at home.

    Monitor television viewing and social media.

    • Limit television viewing or access to information on the Internet and through social media. Try to avoid watching or listening to information that might be upsetting when your children are present.
    • Speak to your child about how many stories about COVID-19 on the Internet may be based on rumors and inaccurate information.
    • Talk to your child about factual information of this disease — this can help reduce anxiety.
    • Constantly watching updates on the status of COVID-19 can increase anxiety — avoid this.
    • Be aware that developmentally inappropriate information (i.e., information designed for adults) can cause anxiety or confusion, particularly in young
    • Engage your child in games or other interesting activities instead.

    Be honest and accurate.

    • In the absence of factual information, children often imagine situations far worse than reality.
    • Don’t ignore their concerns, but rather explain that at the present moment very few people in this country are sick with COVID-19.
    • Children can be told this disease is thought to be spread between people who are in close contact with one another—when an infected person coughs or sneezes.  
    • It is also thought it can be spread when you touch an infected surface or object, which is why it is so important to protect yourself.
    • For additional factual information contact your school nurse, ask your doctor, or check the https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html

    Review and model basic hygiene and healthy lifestyle practices for protection.

    • Encourage your child to practice every day good hygiene—simple steps to prevent spread of illness:
      • Wash hands multiple times a day for at least 20 seconds (singing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star slowly takes about 20 seconds).
      • Cover their mouths with a tissue when they sneeze or cough and throw away the tissue immediately, or sneeze or cough into the bend of their elbow. Do not share food or drinks.
      • Practice giving fist or elbow bumps instead of handshakes. Fewer germs are spread this way.
    • Giving children guidance on what they can do to prevent infection gives them a greater sense of control over disease spread and will help to reduce their anxiety.
    • Encourage your child to eat a balanced diet, get enough sleep, and exercise regularly; this will help them develop a strong immune system to fight off illness.

    Time to Talk

    You know your children best. Let their questions be your guide as to how much information to provide. However, don’t avoid giving them the information that health experts identify as critical to ensuring your children’s health. Be patient; children and youth do not always talk about their concerns readily. Watch for clues that they may want to talk, such as hovering around while you do the dishes or yard work. It is very typical for younger children to ask a few questions, return to playing, then come back to ask more questions. 

    Information is rapidly changing about this new virus—to have the most correct information stay informed by accessing https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html.

    Keep Explanations Age Appropriate

    • Early elementary school children need brief, simple information that should balance COVID-19 facts with appropriate reassurances that their homes are safe and that adults are there to help keep them healthy and to take care of them if they do get sick. Give simple examples of the steps people take every day to stop germs and stay healthy, such as washing hands. Use language such as “adults are working hard to keep you safe.”
    • Upper elementary and early middle school children will be more vocal in asking questions about whether they truly are safe. They may need assistance separating reality from rumor and fantasy. Discuss efforts of school and community leaders to prevent germs from spreading.
    • Upper middle school and high school students are able to discuss the issue in a more in-depth (adult-like) fashion and can be referred directly to appropriate sources of COVID-19 facts. Provide honest, accurate and factual information about the current status of COVID-19. Having such knowledge can help them feel a sense of control.

    Additional Resources

    Talking With Children: Tips for Caregivers, Parents, and Teachers During Infectious Disease Outbreaks, https://store.samhsa.gov/product/Talking-With-Children-Tips-for-Caregivers-Parents-and-Teachers-During-Infectious-Disease-Outbreaks/SMA14-4886

    Coping With Stress During Infectious Disease Outbreaks, https://store.samhsa.gov/product/Coping-with-Stress-During-Infectious-Disease-Outbreaks/sma14-4885

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/transmission.html

    Handwashing and Hand Sanitizer Use at Home, at Play, and Out and About, https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/pdf/hand-sanitizer-factsheet.pdf

    For more information related to schools and physical and mental health, visit www.nasponline.org and www.nasn.org.

    © 2020, National Association of School Psychologists, 4340 East West Highway, Suite 402, Bethesda, MD 20814, 301-657-0270


    Social Distancing Suggestions – As of 3/16/2020 – see Local Government for more details



    Use Caution

    Safe to Do

    Group Gatherings

    Visit Grocery Store

    Take a Walk

    Sleep Overs


    Go for a Hike

    Play Dates

    Pick up Medications

    Play with a Pet

    Nonessential Workers in Home

    Visit a Community Park


    Public Transportation


    Clean out a Closet

    Visitors in your Home


    Read a Good Book



    Listen to Music



    Cook a Meal



    Family Game Night



    Go for a Drive



    Group Video Chat



    Stream a Favorite Show



    Call a Friend

    Emergency Response Information

    • 211
      • This is a team of compassionate, highly trained, specialists who are available 24/7 to help you as a family access the best local resources and services to address any need.
      • Contact information
    • Short Term Crisis Respite- For Adults
      • What is this?
        • This is a crisis respite service for adults who feel like they need assistance and support in the home
      • Contact information
        • 315-216-4320
    • Oswego Health Mobile Crisis Services, Oswego County
      • What is this?
        • This service responds to individuals in crisis, over the phone or in person, in order to reduce unnecessary emergency room visits. Callers are provided with mental health engagement, intervention and follow-up support. Parents can also call on behalf of their child. This service is open to anyone suffering a mental health crisis within Oswego County and they can come to the home to assess the severity of a situation. There are no fees related to this service.
      • Contact Information
        • 315-251-0800
    • Domestic abuse/ Dating Violence - Melissa
      • What is this?
        • Relationship violence is defined as committing an act with the intent of causing fear in another person.
      • Contact information
        • 1-800-799-7233
        • 315-342-1600

    •  Text Crisis Support- National Alliance on Mental Illness
      • What is this?
        • This is a text-based service wherein individuals can text a number and have access to a crisis counselor 24/7.
      • Contact information
        • Text NAMI 741-741
      • Food Insecurity Resources
        • Mexico Food Pantry
        • Contact information (call for updated information)
          • 315-963-0701

    Additional Resources

    COVID-19 resources for Elementary School

    31 Days of Emotional Health Activities for Home