What kids need to know about the coronavirus

By The Health News Team | March 12, 2020
What kids need to know about the coronavirus

We teach children about the importance of washing your hands at a very young age. Whether at home, in preschool, by Big Bird or in day care, just about all kids learn how to wash their hands with soap and water and why it’s good for their health and hygiene.

Remembering this life lesson couldn’t be more vital than right now, as the world faces the spread of COVID-19, a disease caused by a new type of coronavirus. It's one of a family of viruses that usually causes mild respiratory symptoms similar to the common cold, but can be dangerous for some people with compromised immune systems.

Children might be hearing about COVID-19 and worrying about whether it will affect them or the people they love, which is why reminding them that washing their hands frequently can help prevent them from getting sick from all sorts of viruses and bacteria, including coronavirus.

“Although it can feel scary to talk to your children about coronavirus, it is still important,” says Dr. Abisola Olulade, a family medicine doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group.

“Chances are, they will hear about it on TV or from their friends. Speak calmly and reassuringly, and remind them that frequent hand-washing is one of the best ways to prevent them from contracting this virus.”

As a refresher, here’s how you — and your children — should be washing your hands:

  • Wet your hands with clean, running water.

  • Apply soap.

  • Rub your hands together to lather the soap, and don’t forget to scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails.

  • Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds — the amount of time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” from beginning to end two times.

  • Rinse your hands thoroughly under clean, running water.

  • Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry.

Coronavirus facts for kids
Once everyone — kids, parents and others — have hand-washing down, you might want to share the following information with your kids, both to educate them and to calm their coronavirus-related concerns:

1. Trust the experts.

There are a lot of experts working very hard every day to make sure this coronavirus doesn’t make more people sick. Parents can learn a lot of information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about how to prevent it, as well as what experts are learning about the new coronavirus so that they can make vaccines to protect against it and treat people who do get sick.

2. You can help prevent the coronavirus.

Just like washing your hands is very important, there are other things you can do to make sure you don’t catch the coronavirus or other illnesses:

  • Stay away from people who are sick.

  • If you leave the house, practice social distancing and wear a face covering.

  • While it’s usually polite to shake hands or hug someone when you see them, instead, try a wave.

  • Try your hardest to not touch your face, especially your eyes, nose and mouth.

  • If your parents say it’s OK, you can use antibacterial sprays and wipes to help keep the surfaces you touch a lot in your home — such as kitchen counters, doorknobs and handrails — clean. Don’t forget to wipe off your toys, remotes and digital devices, too.

3. Stay home if you’re sick.

Stay home if you don’t feel well, especially if you have a fever. If you need to cough or sneeze, make sure you always do it into your arm or elbow or, even better, into a tissue and then throw the tissue away and wash your hands. Even if you have a fever or are coughing, it doesn’t mean you have the coronavirus. It could be a cold or flu, but your parents and doctor can figure that out and give you the care you need.

4. You can help your family prepare.

Your parents might have bought some extra food, water, toilet paper, medications and other things to keep on hand in case you have to stay home for a while longer. This is good planning on their part and doesn’t mean you or other people around you have the coronavirus or will catch it. It just means you and your family will have what you need while at home.

5. It’s OK to feel scared.

Talk to your parents or another adult you trust if you are hearing news or rumors about the coronavirus that makes you feel a little scared. Sometimes, when there are a lot of stories about a topic like coronavirus, some of the facts can get mixed up and false information can get shared. Don’t believe everything you hear — even from some adults or on TV. Trust what your parents, family members, your doctor and the medical experts are saying.

What parents can do

Parents, remember: While some children and infants have been sick with COVID-19, and a very small number of children experience multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C) after having COVID-19, adults make up most of the known cases. Additionally, the low number of children with confirmed COVID-19 have generally presented with mild symptoms.

The bigger concern for kids at this time is the flu, which can cause mild to severe illness. This is why it is vital that you and your children receive the flu shot every flu season.

It’s also extremely important to make your children feel safe, address and acknowledge their concerns or emotions related to the coronavirus, and set a good example by following the prevention guidelines and staying up to date on the most current coronavirus news.

“It is important to be honest, even about what you don’t know,” says Dr. Olulade. “Give them a safe space to express their thoughts and ask questions, and continue to check in with them regularly, ask them how they are feeling, and let them know you are always available to talk.”

Talk to your doctor if you have questions; if you or your children have had close contact with someone who is confirmed to have, or is being evaluated for, the coronavirus; or if anyone in your family is experiencing fever, cough or difficulty breathing.

The CDC urges you to call ahead before visiting your doctor, pediatrician, urgent care, emergency room or other health care provider. Your provider will work with the public health department and CDC to determine whether you or your child needs to be tested for COVID-19.

Learn what Sharp HealthCare is doing to screen for COVID-19.

This story was updated on June 17, 2020.

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