Explaining the virus

Power of Play Virus image

Not sure how to talk to children or young people about COVID-19? Here are some top tips for explaining this in a calm and reassuring way.

Acknowledge feelings

A good place to start is finding out what they know. Ask them what their biggest worries are and give them a safe space to share them in. You can do this by acknowledging their fears and noticing the level of concern in their voice. Try to normalise what they’re feeling by telling them that everyone has worries, even grown-ups, so it’s ok. 

To start this conversation, you could create a worry box together and encourage them to write down what they’re feeling and put this in the box. Take them out later and explore them together. Or, if your child struggles to express their emotions with words, you can use emoji cards, which you can find on the Me First hub.

GOSH patient Kai writing in a Play session

Keep a close eye on them to see if anything about their behaviour or language is changing. With news, social media and overheard conversations, there’s noise coming from all around – children and young people sometimes find that hard to filter out. 

It’s never a good idea to shield your child entirely from the world outside – better that they hear a balanced view from you rather than a scare story from someone else. As a parent, your role is to reassure your child that you will do everything in your power to keep them safe. Answer their questions honestly and if you don’t know the answer, say so and see if you can find out.

Base all conversations on facts 

Using facts as the basis of your conversations is key. You can reassure them by making a plan, too. You could say something like: “lots of scientists and medical people like doctors and nurses are working hard to keep the bug contained – that means in a small space. But there are lots of things we can do to help them! Let’s make a plan.” 

Making plans and doing active things can help children and young people feel more in control. For example, you can talk about staying healthy, washing hands, and why those things are important. You could create a handwashing song or chart, do a poster competition or even make a washing bus stop. Click on the image to see the full activity below!

Text saying 'washing station' with a picture of washing up liquid

To ease worries, you can also have conversations about how the virus makes most people feel unwell for a few days, like the flu. Watching family members, siblings and friends become poorly will have an impact. Again, you can use facts to offer comfort here. The best places to find facts about coronavirus are:

Explain why these changes are happening 

Their concerns might not just be linked to the virus. It might be more about not being able to see friends or loved ones, even missing the routine of going to school. It’s important to reassure them that while these are big changes, and there might be more to come, they’re for the best to slow down and stop the spread of the virus. 

A Play Specialist talking to a child

Build a picture they can understand 

Use child-friendly activities to build a picture of what’s happening. You could write a poem together, or a song. Here are some helpful things we’ve found online:

  • The Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) COVID-19 hub has lots of useful resources for children and young people, including creative activities from the GOSH Arts team.
  • This booklet explaining the virus in an accessible way, from Mind Heart, is interactive and informative.
  • This video, made by Playmobil, uses well-loved characters to explain the coronavirus and this Q&A from Willis Events and Marketing uses children's voices to answer their most pressing and frequently asked questions.
  • Download this PPE Paper Doll activity, created by the Play team at Great Ormond Street Hospital. It's a brilliant way to demystify PPE for children who might be spending time around adults wearing protective equipment.
  • These information sheets from the International Play Association give parents and carers a chance to understand more about how their child plays and support how to balance internet and screen-based activities.
  • This wellbeing hub, created for children by Nuffield Health, includes a fantastic journal activity.
  • This special episode of Get Well Soon by Dr Ranj includes a brilliant explanation of the virus, as well as the reason children are not going to school. They also sing a song about washing hands!

GOSH patient Yasir with a Play Specialist

Try one of these activities

Check out the Bucket of Happiness game
House of worries
Create a hand washing station
Create your own bug

Focus on staying safe, handwashing and being together. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel!

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