How to Talk to Children and Students About the Coronavirus Outbreak

Parents should stay calm, see what the child already knows, and give them information they can use to form their own conclusions rather than fear-bait them into getting unnecessarily scared

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When it comes to an outbreak like the novel coronavirus, parents always want to stay informed on how to protect their children — no matter if they're in daycare, elementary school, high school or college.

At every stage, children and young adults are surrounded by peers their own age all day long, and interact with a bevy of germs on a daily basis as a result. That puts them at increased risk of encountering harmful bacteria and viruses, but doesn't necessarily increase their risk for this particular strain.

While some older adolescents and young adults may not need as much explanation, Dr. Victor Fornari of Northwell Health suggested posing the question to the child to see what they already know, and don't know, about the virus.

“I think the first thing a parent should do before they enter into the conversation is to ask the child what they’ve heard,” Dr. Fornari told NBC New York.

Other things parents should be prepared to discuss with their children include:

  • The status of the outbreak
  • How it can be contracted
  • Possible dangers, symptoms and effects the illness could have
  • Protective and prohibitive actions families and schools can take to avoid contracting the virus

As for when this kind of discussion should happen, that really depends on timing, and schedules. Just because the dinner table might be the only assured extended time parents and children could spend together in a given day, doesn't mean the conversation has to wait until then.

"It depends on the situation. If the child comes home from school and begins the conversation, I wouldn’t delay it because you don’t want the kids anxiety to build,” Dr. Fornari explained.

Parents are also encouraged to stay clam themselves, when talking to children of all ages. Given that college students in Manhattan and abroad are now dealing with very real coronavirus fears, a collected and informed approach to discussing the matters will encourage them not to panic as well, and won't come across as fear-baiting or scolding.

"Up until now, there was a sense of 'let’s wait and see.' Now that we’ve begun to see impacts for high school and college students, I think all colleges and universities are going to take necessary precautions and keep families up to date about they understand," Dr. Fornari said.

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