Talking to your children about the coronavirus pandemic

Page last reviewed: 21 December 2021

The Mental Health Foundation is part of the national mental health response during the coronavirus outbreak. Government advice designed to keep us safe is under constant review and will be different depending on where you live: more details and up to date information here.

Your children may be concerned, confused or upset by what they hear about coronavirus, vaccines and changing government regulations.

You can help to minimise the negative impact the news has on your children through open and honest conversations at home. Here are some top tips.

1. Start by acknowledging that it is OK to be concerned

Children are very likely to understand the uncertainty of these times even if they’re not old enough to understand what’s happening, or to hear stories that are not expressed in an age-appropriate way.

Go through all their concerns and questions with them, rather than well-meaningly dismissing their feelings by telling them everything is fine. Try sharing with them that you also find events like this worrying. Let them know that you can balance up these worries with the knowledge that they will likely not come true.

Help them to realise that although bad things can happen, many people are working very hard to reduce the impact of the pandemic, so they don’t need to be scared all the time. Reassure them that this time will pass.

Be careful that they don’t overhear conversations about your fears – particularly relating to deaths, serious illness and worry for friends or family. Children pick up more than we realise, and they may misinterpret or keep their feelings hidden from you.

2. Find the balance in consuming news

Small doses of news from trustworthy sources are really helpful. Lots of exposure can do harm, because children can become fixated on a news story and repeatedly look at news coverage relating to it.

The important thing here is balance. Watching rolling news can cause a great deal of anxiety, as can going to great lengths to shield them from any information.

Avoid turning the television off or closing web pages when they come in to the room. This can spark their interest in knowing what's really going on – and that is when their imagination can take over.

3. Help them feel safe

If children have access to clear and honest explanations of what is happening, and they know it's okay to talk about the pandemic, no matter how scary, then it can give them the confidence to reach out to you. All children, even teenagers, want to know that their parents can keep them safe.

Talk about worrying news with open, confident and clear facts. Give them practical tips on looking after themselves and others, explaining the importance of hand washing, ventilation or vaccinations, for example. It’s also a good opportunity to talk about the benefits of kindness.

Encourage them to come to you with any questions about the pandemic. They may feel overwhelmed by things they’ve heard on the news, social media or from their friends. If you don’t have the answers, be honest and try reading or watching reputable news sources together. Do you best to explain what is happening in an unbiased way.

They may be worried about catching coronavirus. Reassure them that it’s unlikely they will get very ill, and that you will look after them if they’re unwell. They may be worried about who will look after you if you catch it, so tell them about the support you have in place.

4. Talk about vulnerability and responsibility

Explain to your children what it means to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is not weakness; it is a natural response to experiencing uncertainty and risk and being emotionally exposed.

You may be feeling vulnerable as a parent in having this conversation with your child. Try to acknowledge this and offer them a lot of time for discussion and support from you.

You can use this as an opportunity for teaching children to grow into responsible citizens. Abiding by government guidelines means understanding that there is something bigger than individuals, and that we should protect each other. Following the rules helps to protect people who are at a higher risk of getting seriously ill from coronavirus – for example, their grandparents or people they know with a long-term health condition.

5. Be honest about the risks of coronavirus

If your children asks about the risk of serious illness or death with coronavirus, it’s best to answer honestly. If you dodge the question, chances are they will make up an answer which may be worse than the truth.

What you say will depend on how old your child is and what they need to know. A young child may just need to hear that most people will be fine if they catch coronavirus, but some will need to go to hospital and, sadly, some people will die. You can explain what you’re doing to stay safe – for example, washing your hands more often or only seeing grandparents over Zoom. Older children may want more detailed information and to have a longer discussion.

Whatever their age, give them plenty of reassurance – that they’re unlikely to get seriously ill, for example, and that (if you’re not in a vulnerable group) you're not, either. If you’re shielding, talk to them about why this is and how they can help you stay safe.

Resources to help you

The NSPCC has information on supporting children with special educational needs and disabilities.

Young Minds has a page on supporting your child during the pandemic, including helping them access mental health support.

Marie Curie has advice on talking to your child about death.

Resources for your child

The Children’s Commissioner has a children’s guide to coronavirus.

The Inter-Agency Standing Committee has a storybook developed by and for children around the world affected by coronavirus.

Childline’s Calm Zone has breathing exercises, activities, games and videos to help let go of stress.

Childline has advice on coronavirus ,including coping with anxiety and looking after your mental health.

Young Minds has tips on looking after your mental health while self-isolating.

The NSPCC has advice on when someone dies.

More useful resources: 

The Mental Health Foundation is committed to bringing readers reliable and relevant information. All of our pages are written and regularly reviewed by our mental health experts, in line with official advice on the coronavirus outbreak.

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If you want to develop a personalised plan for supporting your mental health you can visit the Every Mind Matters site, developed in collaboration with the Mental Health Foundation.

If you need to talk confidentially you can call Samaritans on 116 123 at any time. We also have a resource on how to get help for your mental health.