The COVID-19 pandemic and the recent Omicron variant can be alarming and stressful for parents and children alike. While talking with your child about the COVID-19 pandemic may seem daunting, starting a conversation can help parents and children develop strategies to manage stress.
Here are some tips to help guide the conversation:
Communicate with your children
- Stay calm, especially when giving information to your child. I refer to this as “setting the thermostat” of a conversation. Choose a location where you both feel comfortable and safe. Children react to their environment and if you are calm, they will be more likely to stay calm.
- Begin by asking your child what they know and what they are worried about. Let them ask questions, and provide honest answers that are developmentally/age appropriate.
- For example, if you have chosen to limit exposures during the current surge, your child may ask: “Why can’t I see my friends?” A parent might answer: “We have to take a break from seeing others so we can all stay healthy.”
Even if your child is too young to ask questions about what’s going on, you may notice they appear curious about all the changes happening around them. It’s OK to acknowledge and validate that something different is happening without going into too much detail, which can become overwhelming for a child.
- Don’t be afraid to talk about COVID-19 and variants. It’s likely that children may overhear conversation about the current surge from adults in their life or at school. It’s important to understand that although it’s natural for parents to want to keep difficult news from their child because they don’t want to upset them, not talking about something can actually make kids worry more.
Validate your child’s feelings
It is normal for children to feel anxious about the Omicron variant and the changes, yet again, to their routines. Validate their feelings. Let them know it is OK to feel anxious or sad or frustrated. It’s OK for adults and parents, too, to feel anxious during this time. Be honest and let your child know how you feel and how you are managing your feelings.
While you cannot promise your child will not get sick, it is important to remind them about the safety measures your family, school, and community are doing to minimize your child’s risk. Kids feel empowered when they know what do to keep themselves and others safe.
- At home: Emphasize the safety measures your family is taking, such as vaccinations, wearing a mask, washing your hands, and physical distancing to protect your child and others around you.
- At school: Each school is different and it is helpful to know what your child’s school is doing to minimize risk.
- In the community: Follow your local public health department’s recommendations, and continue to mask and social distance when out in public.
Valley Children’s encourages everyone eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine to get vaccinated as soon as they can. For more information about COVID-19 and COVID-19 vaccines, visit valleychildrens.org/covid19.
About the Authors
Dr. Amanda Suplee joined Valley Children’s as a pediatric psychologist in 2017 with extensive experience in children’s hospitals. She specializes in working with children with chronic medical conditions and co-occurring psychological conditions.
Board certified by the American Board of Pediatrics, Dr. Hailey Nelson joined Valley Children’s as a complex care pediatrician at the Charlie Mitchell Children’s Center in 2016. Dr. Nelson enjoys working with children of all ages and abilities and is especially passionate about providing the best possible care to medically fragile children and their families. She is also a licensed breastfeeding consultant, certified by the International Board of Lactation Consultants to support nursing mothers and their babies.