How to Talk to Your Kids About Coronavirus
COVID-19 is impacting our lives, and it can be a challenge to explain it to children. Here are some tips to help parents talk to their kids about the crisis.
First it was about five. Then it was 15. Then 25. Then 35. Then 50.
These were the number of daily confirmed cases of those infected with COVID-19 in Ohio (where we live). It was at around the “15” mark that Ohio decided to close its schools for three weeks. (This has occurred in other states as well.)
If parents were trying to shield their children from the unending 24-hour news cycle documenting the spread and danger of the virus, the closings of schools made that very difficult. Then when theaters, restaurants and places with gatherings of 50 people or more (or now even 10 or more) closed (including even churches canceling their services), it became impossible.
The questions from little minds poured in, and continue to pour in, and will continue to pour in. My 3-year-old caught me watching a press conference from Ohio’s governor and asked: “What’s a pandemic?”
After stuttering a little bit, I said, “Some people are sick.”
What a cop-out, right? So, we asked several of our friends what to say to our kids about the coronavirus, especially in light of our belief in a loving God who protects His people.
Some helpful themes came up, and hopefully they will be of help to your family as well.
1. Explain that God is still in charge of what ultimately happens in the world.
Jeremiah 32:27 is a helpful scripture to use to teach children about God’s ability to do anything: “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is there anything too hard for Me?”
When our children see clear examples of suffering, we don’t want to give them the impression that God has somehow missed it and forgot to do anything. The reason God allows suffering is a question that mature adults have struggled with for centuries, so imagine the questions a young mind will have about why our loving God would allow things like COVID-19.
Here are some helpful things our friends, with children up to school-age, shared with us:
- “We think it’s important for little ones to know that, sometimes, God allows bad things to happen—and even though they can be scary, God is more powerful than the scary things. They need to know that God loves them and promises to watch over them, and that they can tell God about their fears, because He listens and cares. Even though He’s working on a big plan for the whole world, He still loves to hear from them.”
- “Without a doubt, our family’s reliance upon our Sovereign God was (and remains) foundational to our daily stability during major changes. Prayer and Bible reading tethered us to God’s plan, purpose and promises. Yet we were mindful not ‘to preach.’ Sometime the best approach was reading God’s Word and allowing our boys to consider and process His truth in their time.”
You may find our booklet Why Does God Allow Evil and Suffering? a helpful resource to use when explaining this issue to your children.
2. Help your children understand that when we are afraid, God is always there to help us.
Isaiah 41:10 is a great scripture to share with them on this topic: “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”
Kids might also get the impression that the only way God helps people is by not allowing anything bad to ever happen. We have to explain that God doesn’t shield us from every bad thing—after all, some of the bad things that happen are because of bad decisions we make. But He does promise to help us through those things.
Some thoughts parents shared along these lines were:
- “I think the most important thing to remember is that children imitate their parents. If we are overreacting (in any situation), it causes them stress and teaches them to handle it poorly. If we remain calm and behave as normally as possible, they do not become as alarmed.”
- “Reading a well-chosen book can provide a welcome break from uncertainty. Our children need the opportunity to turn their attention away from unsettling situations. When our children see that Mom and Dad are not consumed by circumstances, it provides an unspoken comfort and peace.
“Singing hymns not only provides an opportunity for praise—but equally important, an opportunity to reinforce God’s truth and faithfulness. Singing together truly does create unique bonds of hope and joy within a family. Despite the calls for ‘social distancing,’ nothing conveys love and security like physical touch. Rubbing a back, hugging and holding a hand is worth the risk within the confines of our family home.
“‘For I, the LORD your God, will hold your right hand, saying to you, “Fear not, I will help you”’” (Isaiah 41:13).
3. Teach your children that there’s a difference between “fearing not” and tempting God.
It is critical, especially at this time, to help our kids understand that we don’t have to fear, but that doesn’t mean we do whatever we want. There’s a big difference between having faith in God’s protection and demanding His protection by tempting Him through foolish actions.
We should encourage behavior that shows love to others and that doesn’t take something lightly that is actually very serious and deadly. We should teach our children the importance of wisdom and discretion and how that balances with faith in God. We teach them to ask for God’s protection, but to do all they can to avoid getting sick themselves.
Other parents mentioned these ideas as well:
- “We already talk about handwashing, keeping germs to ourselves, and eating healthy all the time in our family. That doesn’t seem strange to them. The extreme isolation has been the most difficult and what we’ve needed to talk about most. Sometimes people make decisions that we don’t understand, but it’s a good opportunity to uphold the decision to our kids because it comes from a position of authority.”
- “We put emphasis on the fact that us being quarantined is about showing love to our neighbor. That all people are our neighbors, and we are to help protect and look after one another. One way we can do that is by staying home so we don’t spread germs.”
Our article “Teaching Your Children to Honor the Elderly” can be a helpful resource for parents.
4. Help your children grasp that loving and obeying God shouldn’t depend on the circumstances.
In Matthew 22:37-39, Jesus tells us: “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
We can emphasize to them that a time like this is full of opportunities to practice these laws. We can even show them good examples of people showing love and concern for others.
Another thought from a parent was:
- “We’ve reminded our children to remember all the blessings and joyful things that have come out of this event (Daddy being home more, extra family time together as things/activities are canceled). We have made clear that God is allowing this to happen, and He is still in control and watching over His people. We’ve asked them to diligently pray daily about the situation, that God would resolve it, make it less dangerous and that we can return to church as soon as possible according to His will.”
Another parent also mentioned keeping the same routines and expectations that would normally occur, such as holding church services at home in a respectful and special way and keeping the Sabbath holy.
How we talk to our kids is just as important as what we say. Speaking in a calm manner, and not sharing every single gruesome detail, is important.
Helping children understand a situation like this can be challenging. But, with God’s help, parents and children can face, and grow from, any challenge.