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Coronavirus: from UNICEF, how to talk to children in eight steps

NEW YORK, MARCH 17 – As many adults are overwhelmed and anxious about the coronavirus pandemic, UNICEF offered suggestions on how children may be feeling and urged parents to have open, supportive discussions to help them cope.

Amidst a deluge of information and with more and more people being confined to their homes, it is not surprising that children are also feeling anxious. And although they might find it difficult to understand what they are seeing online or on television, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) points out that “they can be particularly vulnerable to feelings of anxiety, stress and sadness”.

UNICEF offered tips on how to engage your child in a meaningful discussion on this daunting issue.

TALK to them

The UN Children’s’ Fund suggests inviting your child to talk about the issue to assess how much they know and follow their lead. “If they are particularly young and haven’t already heard about the outbreak, you may not need to raise the issue – just take the chance to remind them about good hygiene practices without introducing new fears,” UNICEF said.

“Drawing, stories and other activities may help to open up a discussion”, they recommend, adding not to minimize or avoid their concerns. “Be sure to acknowledge their feelings and assure them that it’s natural to feel scared about these things”.

Keep them safe from distress

While children have a right to truthful information about what is going on, adults have a responsibility to protect them safe from distress.  “Use age-appropriate language, watch their reactions, and be sensitive to their level of anxiety”, advocates UNICEF.  And if you can’t answer their questions, “don’t guess”, but tap into websites like UNICEF and the World Health Organization for guidance.

Teaching protection 

One of the best ways to keep children safe from COVID-19 and other diseases is to simply encourage regular handwashing. It needn’t be a scary conversation and can even be made fun with sing along with The Wiggles or follow this dance.

Show children how to cover a cough or a sneeze with their elbow and ask them to tell you if they start to feel like they have a fever or difficulty breathing.


As children see upsetting images on TV or online, they may believe they are in imminent danger. To help them cope, make opportunities to play and relax, when possible.

“Keep regular routines and schedules as much as possible, especially before they go to sleep, or help create new ones in a new environment”, urges UNICEF. If there is a local outbreak, tell your children that they are not likely to get sick and that lots of adults are working hard to keep your family safe.

Should they fall ill, explain that it is safer for them to stay home and even if it is hard, following the rules will help keep everyone safe.

Stemming stigma

It is important to check that your children are neither experiencing nor contributing to coronavirus bullying. Explain that the illness has nothing to do with what someone looks like, where they are from or what language they speak and if they hear any name-calling or bullying, they should tell a trusted adult.

Spreading kindness

Because children know that people are helping each other with acts of kindness and generosity, UNICEF recommends sharing stories of health workers, scientists and young people, who are working to stop the outbreak. “It can be a big comfort to know that compassionate people are taking action”, the agency said.

Caring for yourself

Children will pick up on your response to the news, so taking care of yourself and exuding an in-control presence, will help your kids better cope. “Make some time to do things that help you relax and recuperate”, UNICEF underscored.

Last, but not least, close conversation with care

It’s important to know that we’re not leaving children in a state of distress, so when you wrap up your conversations, watch their body language to gauge their level of anxiety, such as if they are using their usual tone of voice and breathing naturally.

“Remind your children that they can have other difficult conversations with you at any time”, concluded UNICEF. “Remind them that you care, you’re listening and that you’re available whenever they’re feeling worried”. (@OnuItalia)


Il giornale Italiano delle Nazioni Unite. Ha due redazioni, una a New York, l’altra a Roma.

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