Finding ourselves in unprecedented circumstances, parents all over are wondering how to address the coronavirus outbreak with their kids. How much is too much? How much is not enough? What if they’re scared? What if I’m scared? How can I even have this conversation when so much remains uncertain? If you’ve been having these thoughts, you’re not alone.

As with so many important conversations, this is not a one-time hit. It’s an evolving, ongoing conversation over the days and weeks and possibly months while we watch the pandemic unfold. But it’s important to start now.

Before you talk to your kids, check your own anxiety levels. The rapid onslaught of information at our fingertips, coupled with the uncertainty we’re facing, has many of us experiencing very high levels of fear and anxiety. Take the time to calm yourself before you open up this conversation with your kids. We’re all sensitive to other people’s moods, and you want to convey calmness and safety.

Don’t Ignore

Factual information is a whole lot less scary for kids than a vacuum of unknowing. They’re smart. They’re intuitive. They already know something is going on. They hear you talking about it. They feel your anxiety. They see people changing their schedules and living differently. They’re home from school indefinitely; it’s no snow day or scheduled vacation and playdates are off the table. While you don’t want to overload them with too many details that are not age-appropriate, pretending that nothing has changed is neither helpful nor protective.


Let your kids lead the conversation. Chances are they already know more than you think. Some may be factual; much may be misinformation. A good starting point is to ask them what they already know so you can help them sort out what is true and what is not and fill in with factual information as needed.

Provide Age-Appropriate Information

The conversations you have are going to look very different depending on the ages (and personalities) of your children. Do make sure you’re getting your information from verified, factual sources.

  • Preschool children require the least amount of information. Don’t overload them. Stick to short sentences and repeat as needed. Explain changes in routine, keep the general mood positive and upbeat, and when they ask for things you can’t provide right now (outings, playdates) do your best to convey that you wish you could, and you will do those things again when everybody is feeling better.

  • Elementary school children will probably have the most questions. Try to give information without inducing panic and fear. So much is still unknown, and it’s OK to say “scientists are still working that out,” or simply, “we don’t yet, but I’ll let you know as soon as we do.” Treat it like an interesting current events or science discussion (which can even splinter off into a conversation about disease in general, how germs work, and the history of pandemics).

    The most important thing is for kids to feel that home is a safe place, and that their family will be OK. Unless you have case-specific reasons to believe otherwise, you can confidently assure them of that.

    Note: For some kids, anxiety may manifest as physical pain. Headaches and stomach aches are particularly common. You probably know already if your child is prone to that. Be gentle but empowering. Don’t say, “You’re fine; you’re overreacting.” They are genuinely experiencing physical discomfort. But you also don’t need to treat it like illness. Help them come up with ways to lower their anxiety levels in those moments, so the headaches and stomach aches can ease up. (See “Model Calming Techniques” below for suggestions.)

  • Teens tend to feel invincible, so a little fear-mongering may be in order. You know your child best. If you know they swing anxious, lay off on the fear. But if they’re likely to disregard the safety guidelines, you may need to sit them down and educate them with some cold hard facts. Let them come up with a list of people they know who are more vulnerable and explain that by staying home—hard as that may be—they may well be saving those people’s lives.

    It's also important to realize that being stuck at home can be extra difficult for teenagers. They’re in the process of separating and establishing themselves as independent adults, and having that reigned in (while hormones and emotions run rampant) is tough. Try to keep that in mind and respond with empathy.

Watch: Parenting Your Jewish Teen

Reassure Without Over Reassuring

Kids (and adults!) of all ages crave reassurance. Everyone wants to feel safe. You might not be able to access those feelings yourself, but you can still provide your children with that reassurance.

  1. Ask them about their fears and anxieties, and remember, listening is more powerful than talking. Don’t jump in and try to dismiss or explain away their fears. “Don’t worry” and “calm down” are possibly the least helpful phrases for anybody experiencing anxiety. Just listen and make sure they feel heard and understood.
  2. Normalize their feelings. It’s OK to feel uncomfortable. This is a new situation for all of us and the unknown and indefinitude make it all the more stressful. Teach them that it’s healthy to acknowledge and experience and simply sit with those feelings of discomfort.
  3. Now, reassure. Tell them that doctors and scientists are working hard to contain and combat the virus and share some of the developments they’ve made. Explain that by following the CDC guidelines, they are the safest they can be (and keeping others safe in the process). Most of all, tell them that the adults will do the worrying and convey that they are safe at home with you.

Model Calming Techniques

While you don’t want to show your kids the full extent of your anxiety, it’s OK to show vulnerability. It can be helpful for them to know that you also feel some uncertainty, you also want things to go back to normal, and you are also worried about loved ones. But then discuss how you calm yourself and help your children find ways to calm themselves too. Emphasize the Jewish traditions we can lean on in this time: giving a coin to charity, saying a prayer, or doing a mitzvah while thinking about our protection.

Other suggestions: doing a set of deep breathing, a short meditation, a series of stretches, putting on a pair of headphones and listening to relaxation music, lighting a scented candle, working through an adult coloring book, or spending some time outdoors (where possible). Come up with a list, and when you kid feels anxious or stressed, say, “How can you reassure yourself?” They will be empowered to come up with an option from the list that feels right in that moment. And be conscious to model your own calming techniques as you do them. It’s OK to say, “I’m feeling anxious right now, I’m going to go outside and do some deep breathing for 10 minutes,” or, “I’m giving a coin to charity and saying a short prayer to center myself right now,” and encourage them to join you.

Read: How Can I Stop Worrying All the Time?

Minimize Exposure to Media

We all want to know the latest, and social media and the 24-hour news cycle play right into that. And while it’s important to keep abreast of relevant updates and guidelines, having the news playing in the background all day (or refreshing your online feed every 30 seconds) is not conducive to your own health and wellbeing, and certainly not to your children’s. Checking a couple of times a day (preferably when the kids are sleeping or otherwise engaged) should be enough.

Discuss What You Can Do

Having concrete things to do can help us retain a small sense of control at a time like this. Sit down with your family and think about:

  1. Boost your immune systems. Aside from social distancing, boosting our general health is one of the best things we can do right now, so that if we are hit with the virus, we face the best chance of warding it off. Discuss this with your kids, and come up with how you can do this as a family. Ideas might include: getting outdoors (where possible), flinging the windows open to air out the house several times a day, doing exercise videos together, remembering to actually take those vitamins you’ve been meaning to get to, and making an effort to get enough sleep at night.
  2. Make home as pleasant as possible. You’re all in this together for the long haul, however long that may be. Get your kids invested in keeping the house relatively peaceful. This may mean coming up with a joint playlist of music to keep running in the background, or a schedule of turns for deciding what you will all listen to (or watch). And staying home means there will be more mess in your house, by default. Sit down together and come up with a plan to stay on top of that; it may take a week or two to implement, but in the long run it will significantly lower the stress levels in your home.
  3. Encourage virtual social interaction. Fortunately, we live in a time when we are able to connect remotely. Help your kids stay in touch with their extended family, school friends, neighbors and camp buddies online. Texting and chatting is great, but face-to-face interaction is vital at a time when people are so isolated.
  4. Discuss how you can help others. In addition to checking in and video-calling people in your social network, sit down together and come up with a list of people who may not have anyone (or only a couple of people) to check in on them. If you are able to get out and they are not, offer to drop off groceries, cooked food, or medicine, and leave it outside the door.
  5. Come up with a grand list of things you would like to accomplish during this time. Some of the best work and discoveries in history have come from periods of isolation. In fact, one of the most coveted opportunities for writers and visual artists are residencies where they are housed (usually in picturesque settings), fed (farm-to-table style), and are able to focus exclusively on their creative work (often sans-internet) for a month or more. Back in 1665, Sir Isaac Newton was sent home from university as the Plague ravaged Europe. He often described that period as his annus mirabilis, “year of wonders.”
  6. Think about how you’ll structure your time. You know your family and what works best for you. For some, a rigorous schedule works best; others thrive on a more relaxed approach.

Lean In to the Comfort of Jewish Tradition

  1. Give tzedakah. Tzedakah is associated with salvation. Isaiah, the prophet of peace, compared giving charity to donning a suit of armor.1 Each contribution you make, no matter how small, provides a shield of protection against illness. Likewise, the Book of Proverbs tells us that “charity saves from death.” Make a point of stopping each day to consciously put a coin (or more) into a tzedakah box (and then wash your hands well) in the merit of good health and longevity for everyone in harm’s way.
  2. Pray regularly. Try to incorporate a morning prayer ritual with familiar tunes to start your day off with a dose of spirituality. Your kids may know the tunes from day school or Hebrew school, and you can always sing along with our tefillah trax. Keep in mind the people who are affected by coronavirus, both directly and indirectly. Discuss that we can pray at any time, in our own words, by simply talking to G‑d.
  3. Look at the mezuzah and feel its protection. The mezuzah is a sign and a reminder that G‑d will protect us, even at times of danger. While kissing or touching the mezuzah may not be the best idea at the moment, encourage your children to stop and look at the mezuzah as they pass through the door, and lean in to the feeling of protection it engenders.
  4. Study Torah as a family. Spend some time each week exploring the Torah portion. Delve into Passover traditions. Explore stories on emunah (faith) and bitachon (trust), which we all need right now.

Harness the Power of Gratitude and Positivity

Yes, times are tough right now, but we also have much for which to be grateful. Look at how much of our lives we are able to continue, and how many people we can stay connected with thanks to technology. Try to do a gratitude “check in” once a day to keep up the positivity (which has known healing powers and health benefits).

Watch: How to Create a Culture of Gratitude in Your Home

Take it Seriously, but Humor Is OK Too

As long as you’re taking all the safety precautions and guidelines seriously, a little levity is more than OK. Don’t pounce on your kids for making jokes; it’s a coping technique. Dark humor has existed since time immemorial and always thrives at times like these. It’s OK. Ease up. Crack a joke or two yourself.