Talking to kids about Covid-19

2020-03-16 12:54
Educational psychologist, Naomi Holdt.

Educational psychologist, Naomi Holdt.

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“Why is everybody sick?”

“Is it the end of the world?”

“Are we all going to die?”

These are just some of the anxious questions parents have been asked by their children since the outbreak of Covid-19.  Children are like sponges to everything happening around them.

Whatever fears that we have are amplified to them.

Educational psychologist Naomi Holdt told Weekend Witness that adults needed to work out their own fears first before addressing their children.

Holdt said fear was the first reaction felt by most South Africans upon hearing about the presence of Covid-19, and children were not exempt from that emotion.

The psychologist said many of the children and teenagers she has been seeing in therapy lately had grown anxious because of the virus. She said they feared contracting the virus, their families becoming ill, and their loved ones dying.

“These are natural fears. Children are not immune to the possibilities of what the presence of this virus could mean in our country,” said Holdt.

Holdt emphasised the fact that everyone feels empowered when they know the facts, therefore she encourages parents to educate their children about the virus. “Knowledge is power. Truth is power. Our children need to know the truth without our own sense of panic attached to it,” said Holdt.

Holdt said the first step when talking to children about Covid-19, or any fearful situation, was to understand their emotions before presenting facts. She said you must let your child know that fear is a natural and normal response when faced with a concerning situation.

“As soon as children feel understood, they will be more open to listening to the facts,” said Holdt.

Holdt said secondly, parents must note that children feel empowered when they know how they can help.

She suggested getting children involved in projects such as collecting hand sanitisers for schools, children’s homes, old age homes and places that are unable to afford them. “Covid-19 has created an opportunity for people to teach their children the importance of showing care and compassion. Adults should focus on being role models with attributes such as being non-judgmental and kind to all those who have been directly impacted,” said Holdt.


1. Find out what your child already knows about the virus in case there are some rumours they have heard, that you may need to rectify.

2. Remember to only share age-appropriate information. E.g., “People who have this virus may have a fever, a cough and some breathing difficulties.

“For children and adults with a healthy immune system, getting Covid-19 would be like getting the flu. Nasty, but you would get over it”.

3. Answer their questions as truthfully as you can. If you are also unsure, first look it up on a reputable medical website.

4. Assure them that medical experts are working hard to contain the virus and to ensure everyone’s safety.

5. Be proactive and teach good hygiene habits.   Holdt said the key to the nation getting through is by avoiding dividing ourselves through blame, fear and criticism, but instead we should unite with compassion. “This is an ideal opportunity for South Africans to show the world the substance we are really made of.”


1. Help children find ways to express their disturbing feelings such as fear and sadness because every child has their own way of expressing emotions.

Engage in creative activities such as playing and drawing to help facilitate this process. Children communicate their feelings better when they are in a safe and supportive environment.

2. Avoid separating children from their primary caregivers. If this happens, make sure that appropriate alternative care is there such as a trusted family member or a social worker.

Furthermore, ensure that regular contact is maintained between the child and their parent through scheduled phone calls or video calls.

3. If children are confined to the home, maintain familiar routines in their daily life. Provide engaging activities and encourage them to play and socialise with others — even if only within the family when advised to restrict social contact.

4. Children tend to seek more attention and be demanding of their parents when they are stressed. By discussing Covid-19 honestly with them, you will ease their anxiety.

Remember that children observe adult behaviours and emotions for cues on how to manage their own emotions during difficult times.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  covid-19 in south africa

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