Talking to young children about COVID-19: tools and strategies for parents and caregivers

Talking to young children about COVID-19: tools and strategies for parents and caregivers  

Original Publish Date: May 4th, 2020

This can be a scary time for children, and they may not understand why they need to stay indoors or what is going on in the world. One of the best ways caretakers can help young children cope is by making them feel safe, sharing age-appropriate information and stories about the many people working to fight the virus.

Here are a selection of strategies and resources to help caregivers talk to children about the pandemic:

Using Social Stories to Support Learning and Understanding

Something Strange Happened in My City is a short children's book and lesson plan shared by the NAEYC Asian Interest Forum and serves as a great resource for parents, caregivers, and educators to help children ages 3-8 understand the coronavirus pandemic. The book, which was sponsored by a company based in Shanghai, China (GLOPO.JCCreation and Art Center), offers parents a way to approach difficult conversations with their children in an age-appropriate way to mitigate their fears and concerns. Something Strange Happened in My City promotes the concept of ‘social stories,’ which is using developmentally appropriate storytelling to enable children to absorb information and develop healthy coping mechanisms. The book has been translated into 16 languages and can be found at https://socialstorycenter.com. Teachers and special education providers have adapted social stories as a method to support children as they cope with the complex social and emotional challenges brought on by the pandemic. Social stories can be used to reassure children, guide change in behavior, and make them feel supported and protected by their caregivers.

More information about using social stories for children can be found recent articles such as this one: Create a Social Story for Children to Easily Understand and Face Corona Virus. This resource is available to be translated into English and is currently a great resource for Chinese-speaking families.

Strategies to Consider when Talking to Young Children about COVID-19

The following tips are translated and adapted from the original article: Protecting Ourselves is the Greatest Contribution We Can Make from Corona Virus, Help your Child to Learn 3 Things. The article shares some key tips for caregivers to support children discuss their fears and uncertainties during this time.

Three tips to keep in mind while discussing Corona virus with children are:

  1. Knowledge development: In many cases, fear is caused by a lack of understanding, so knowledge will help children to reduce the fear of the epidemic. Parents can help children understand the facts including the origin of the virus, how it is transmitted, and how to protect themselves. Effective use of picture books and social stories can be helpful to convey facts and information.
  2. Psychological development: Because young children are still developing their social, emotional, and psychological skills, they absorb information differently from adults. Caregivers should consider a child’s natural temperament and ensure that they feel safe as they learn about the pandemic.
  3. Opportunity for education: Children are usually good observers. They see, hear, and feel what is happening around them. Preschoolers and toddlers are still developing the ability to understand more complex social situations and need additional support from caregivers to breakdown and understand new behaviors and changes in daily routines impacted by the coronavirus. Parents can use this opportunity to educate their children and give them skills to manage their risk by developing healthy habits, including the correct way to wash their hands, cough and sneeze properly into their elbow, and to avoid touching their face after having touched objects outside.

Caregivers Can Play a Role to Reduce Bias and Stigma

By seeing members of the community wearing masks and sensing heightened anxiety, young children will produce "social references," that is, when children don't know how to make judgments and react to something, they will learn from the cues provided by emotional and behavioral reactions from the adults around them. In addition to managing stress and fear associated with changes in normal routines, caregivers can also play a significant role in modeling behavior to reduce the impact of learned bias and stereotypes which are harmful when associated with specific racial and ethnic groups.

 While COVID-19 originated in China, it is critical for parents to help children associate the spread of disease with geography rather than a racial or ethnic group. Fact-based Information is important to decrease the likelihood that Asian communities are unfairly stigmatized in the wake of this virus. For more tips on how parents and caregivers can counter COVID-19 stigma and racism, take a look at this helpful resource posted by the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP).


This blog is shared on the Early Childhood Connector (ECC) News to support the goal of elevating community voices. The External Resource highlighted in this post was originally shared on behalf of Shu-Chen (Jenny) Yen  in the COVID-19 Community groupShare how COVID-19 has affected you, your community, your state, and our country by joining the community.

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Anonymous
  • Dear All, I am thrilled to provide an update on the project! I have uploaded both the Italian and Spanish animated storybook to Youtube and the Social Story Website. It has been a great experience working with people in Taiwan, China, and Italy on the animation. You can find both videos here, 

    Italian: https://youtu.be/NQClxzwz2E0

    Spanish: https://youtu.be/oQj1g78oETk

    Several teachers from Google Child Care Center joined the NAEYC AIF to help with translation, so we will have French, Tagalog, Hindi, Haitian Creole, German, and Kannada available soon!!

    Please feel free to share the resources with parents and teachers! Thank you!