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How to talk to students about the COVID-19 outbreak

Whether you’re a parent or a teacher, here are some tips on how to allay the worries children may have and help reduce their anxiety.

The COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic is having a huge impact on students and families across the globe, causing uncertainty, fear and anxiety and also disrupting routines and closing schools. But parents and teachers (either in the classroom or through online communication) can play an important role in helping children make sense of what is happening.

Keep the conversation going

Children will have questions and worries about COVID-19. To ease student anxiety, give them the space to ask questions and ensure you have the answers from reliable sources, advises the British Psychological Society (BPS) Division of Educational and Child Psychology. If you want to bring up the subject with children, begin with an open question, for example, “what do you know about it?” Children usually feel relieved if they are able to express and communicate their feelings. With younger children, engaging with them in a creative activity, such as playing and drawing can often help this process.

Be age-appropriate

Be truthful but remember your child’s age. Give them factual information but adjust the amount and detail to suit their age. Younger children might understand a cartoon or picture better than an explanation. Dan O’Hare, an educational psychologist and founder of, recommends the MindHeart information and activity book about COVID-19 by Manuela Molina, which was written for children under the age of seven. It’s available in 18 languages and encourages children to discuss their emotions.

“Remind children of the important things they can do to stay healthy.”

Teenagers should not overexpose themselves to a constant stream of news, which can become overwhelming, recommends mental health charity YoungMinds. Instead, suggest some activities that help reduce anxiety such as breathing techniques, writing down their feelings, playing music or talking to a friend.

Parents should encourage teenagers to take breaks from social media, which can fuel anxiety. Talk to children about how some COVID-19 stories on social media may be based on inaccurate information. Teachers can also use this as an opportunity to explore the role of media, rumours and fake news with students.

Remain calm and reassuring

Children often take their emotional cues from the important adults in their lives, so how adults respond to the crisis is very important, says the World Health Organization (WHO). Try to manage your own worries and remain calm and thoughtful. Adults have the opportunity to model positive behaviour, which reassures children.

Give practical guidance

Remind children of the important things they can do to stay healthy and give them motivation to keep going, such as thinking of a song they want to sing while washing their hands, says the BPS. “Children feel empowered when they know what to do to keep themselves safe”, says Jamie Howard, a child psychologist at the Child Mind Institute in the U.S.

Avoid any blame or stigma

“When tensions are high, sometimes we try to blame someone”, says the National Association of School Psychologists in the U.S. It is important to avoid stereotyping any one group of people as responsible for the virus. Do not refer to people with the disease as, “COVID-19 cases”, “victims”, “COVID-19 families”, or the, “diseased”. Instead they are, “people who have COVID-19”, “people who are being treated for COVID-19”, or “people who are recovering from COVID-19”, advises the WHO.

For up-to-date information on preventative measures, see advice from the World Health Organization (WHO), which has a useful section on myth-busters.

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