Parent and child washing their hands

Talking to children about coronavirus

Coronavirus, or Covid-19, is the word on everybody’s lips at the moment.

Television news reports, newspaper headlines and of course conversations at home are dominated by the latest developments in this fast-moving global health emergency.

Consequently, it is inevitable that even very young children will pick up on the levels of anxiety around them about the virus, even if they do not fully understand the context of the current situation.

Therefore, it is important you respond to any concerns that children express in a sensitive and age-appropriate manner.

Answering children's questions about Covid-19

Think about how you and other parents, carers or family members are going to respond to questions and concerns that come directly from your children.

Make sure you are all informed enough to be consistent and accurate when you respond to their questions.

  • Don’t force the issue or overload children with information — keep it relevant, age appropriate and simple.
  • Give the information within a context that children will understand. For example: “It’s a bit like having a cold, but for some people it can make them feel really poorly.”
  • Always acknowledge the interest or question that a child may have expressed and never dismiss children’s concern. What may seem trivial to you is likely to be a very real worry to a child who, for example, has heard that the virus is dangerous for older people and is frightened that something will happen to their grandma.
  • Don't talk to your spouse, partner, family members or friends over children’s heads about the latest coronavirus updates. We sometimes forget just how much young children are affected by the concerns that adults show around them.

Encourage good hygiene habits

One of the most effective things you can do to help keep your family healthy is to encourage and reinforce good hand hygiene with young children.

  • Lead by example and always wash your hands when you come into your home from being out.
  • Encourage hand-washing before and after mealtimes, after using the toilet and after touching animals.
  • Use liquid soap, warm water and paper towels, wherever possible. Use alcohol-based hand sanitiser if soap and water is not available. Look for products with at least 60% alcohol.
  • Encourage children to cover their mouths with disposable tissues when coughing or sneezing – and make sure they go straight in the bin afterwards. Then wash their hands.
  • You and your children should try not to touch your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands and should not share any items that come into contact with mouths such as cups, bottles and straws.

Making hand washing fun

Children at Selston Childcare in Nottingham have been learning about the importance of washing their hands after sneezing or coughing and making sure they use tissues.

Staff have shared a fun song sing while they are washing their hands:

“This is the way we wash our hands, wash our hands, wash our hands. This is the way we wash our hands to kill coronavirus.

“This is the way we rub the soap, rub the soap, rub the soap. This is the way we rub the soap to kill coronavirus.”

Exercise caution with social media

Social media and word-of-mouth in a community can sometimes be a source of misinformation, particularly if you hear of a suspected case of coronavirus locally.

Only read and share advice from official, reliable sources such as Public Health England and the NHS.

Try and avoid sharing sensitive information online which may cause undue distress or unnecessary concern. Remember that even if you share content which appears to be ‘private’ or is on a closed profile or group, it could potentially end up in the public domain so please be mindful of what you share.

Useful links

Coronavirus (Covid-19) — Public Health England

Coronavirus (Covid-19) — NHS

Coronavirus (Covid-19) Action Plan — Gov.uk 

Useful resources

NHS VIDEO - How to wash your hands song

NHS VIDEO - NHS guide to handwashing 

DOWNLOAD - Horrid Hands hand hygiene poster

DOWNLOAD - How to handwash poster

Free printable handwashing posters for children


Where next?

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