Talking to Children about Germs, COVID-19, and Practicing Proper Hygiene

Child washing hands with soap

With the recent outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), many children may have questions about the virus or germs in general.

What are Germs?

Germs are everywhere! They are small and can enter our bodies without us knowing. Some germs can live on surfaces (e.g., doorknobs, countertops) for a short period of time. Once they invade a human body, however, they can make a person sick. The easiest way to prevent the spread of germs is through handwashing!

Bacteria are tiny cells that obtain nutrients from their environment, which in some cases may be the human body, and can reproduce either inside or outside of a human body (KidsHealth, 2018). Ear infections, strep throat, and pneumonia are all examples of illnesses that can be caused by bacteria. Antibiotics can be used to help kill unwanted bacteria inside of the body. However, not all bacteria are bad. Some bacteria are good and help to keep our bodies functioning normally!

Viruses need to be inside living cells to reproduce (KidsHealth, 2018). A virus cannot survive long outside of a host, like a human or an animal. Viruses can cause the common cold; the flu; sinusitis; bronchitis; or other diseases, such as COVID-19. Antibiotics cannot be used to kill viruses; however, antiviral medications and vaccines can help to fight viruses or even prevent viruses from making a person sick.

How to Talk to Children about the COVID-19 Virus

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) (2020) has developed some general principles for how to talk to children about the COVID-19 virus.

  • Remain calm and reassuring.
  • Make yourself available to listen and to talk.
  • Avoid language that might blame others and lead to stigma.
  • Pay attention to what children see or hear on television or media outlets.
  • Provide information that is honest and accurate.
  • Teach children everyday actions to reduce the spread of germs.

How to help Children practice Good Hygiene

Parents can help children prevent the spread of germs by teaching children specific manners to be used when they are sick and showing them how to maintain proper hygiene. According to the CDC (2020), some ways parents can teach children everyday actions to reduce the spread of germs are as follows:

  • Remind children to stay away from people who are coughing or sneezing or who seem sick.
  • Remind children to cough or sneeze into their elbow or a tissue, and then throw the tissue into the trash.
  • Get children into a hand-washing habit.
    • Teach children to wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after blowing their noses, coughing, sneezing, going to the bathroom, and before eating or preparing food. Have them sing the Happy Birthday song twice while they wash their hands; that will equal 20 seconds!
    • If soap and water are not available, teach them to use a hand sanitizer. Hand sanitizers should contain at least 60% alcohol. Supervise young children at home, school, and child care facilities when they use a hand sanitizer to prevent them from swallowing the product.

For more information about COVID-19, please visit the CDC’s website at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/

References

Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2020, March). Talking with children about coronavirus disease 2019: Messages for parents, school staff, and others working with children. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/talking-with-children.html

KidsHealth. (2018, July). What are Germs? Retrieved from https://kidshealth.org/en/kids/germs.html

How to Talk to Kids about Tough Topics

Little kid with large glasses looking perplexed

School shootings, natural disasters, political turmoil, epidemics… these and other distressing events are common headlines in our current world. Today, many kids have ready access to information 24/7, which means parents need to be ready to talk about and explain information with their children. But as a parent, what is the best approach to talking with your child about tough topics? How do you have those conversations?

One of the most important things to think about when talking with your child about a difficult topic is their age and stage of development. When a child asks a tough question or brings up one of the challenging situations mentioned, the conversation is going to look very different depending on whether your child is in preschool, second grade, or tenth grade! Being aware of your child’s stage of development will help you communicate more effectively with them.

Additionally, you may find the following tips helpful as you prepare for or anticipate challenging conversations with your child:

  • Listen for feelings. Sometimes when youth come to a caregiver and ask questions about a tough topic, they are feeling unpleasant or unfamiliar emotions. For example, after a school shooting, children may feel fear, sadness, or threats to their sense of safety. Parents can help their children identify and name the feeling(s) they are experiencing.
  • Give space for conversation; in other words, listen! Have you ever heard the saying, “Talk and listen in the same proportion of your ears and mouth.” What this means is, listen twice as much as you talk! All joking aside, often when children approach a parent, they don’t want you to minimize or solve their problem. They simply want to engage in conversation. So, if your child comes to you, ask follow-up questions, get opinions, be curious, and listen.
  • Find out what they already know. This is a great tip for talking about tough topics. A simple question such as, “What do you already know about this topic?” can help parents gauge the child’s level of understanding on the topic. The conversation can proceed from there.
  • It’s ok to say to your child, “Let me think about that.” If you need a moment to collect your thoughts before you engage in a tough topic, that’s OK! State your need, and, then, make sure you follow up with your child at a point in the near future.
  • Finally, keep the door open for more conversation. When you wrap up your conversation with your youth, remind them you are available to talk if or when they need you! As children grow, keep the lines of communication open. We want our kids to come to us when they need to talk – even about the tough stuff.

Additional Resources

For more information and strategies for Talking to Kids about Tough Topics, please visit:

Why Do Siblings Fight?

Kids having a pillow fight

How often, as a parent, do you hear your child saying, “Mom! Harrison keeps teasing me and won’t leave me alone!” Then your other child responds, “No I’m not, Mom! She started it!” As a child, you may remember fighting with your siblings. Now, as a parent, it seems as if your own children are constantly fighting over small disagreements. You may begin to feel like you are being stretched thin as you try to keep peace among your children and find yourself questioning, “Why do my children fight constantly?”

Siblings, in general, are not motivated to be nice to each other because they know their sibling will be there tomorrow. Sigmund Freud believed that from birth, children are locked in an external struggle for their parent’s affection. However, parental affection ranks last in terms of why siblings fight. The number one reason behind sibling fighting is sharing. Ultimately, fighting is a normal part of your child’s development. Fighting can help siblings create bonds that are stronger than their bonds with peers and/or parents. It can help them develop a sense of empathy and self-disclosure. These skills may then carry over into their future relationships and result in positive outcomes, such as better conflict resolution skills and social competence.

As for parents, it’s important to demonstrate positive strategies in resolving conflicts in a healthy manner by, for example, role modeling positive and cooperative arguments when your children are around. If you feel your children’s fights are becoming more intense or happening more frequently, there are a few ways for you to intervene and resolve the conflict peacefully.

  • First, make sure your children are separated in the room and not physically hurting one another. Allow them to take a minute or two to cool down. You can help them by demonstrating deep breathing exercises.
  • Second, get down to your children’s eye level and listen to both sides. This will allow your children to express their feelings and feel heard. Sometimes, kids maybe too upset to discuss the incident. In that case, you may need to separate your children if they are not ready to talk. Remember, you want to teach them self-calming techniques in order for them to be able to self-regulate their emotions.
  • Once both children have calmed down, bring them together. Assist your children as they express their feelings to one another and help them use joint positive problem-solving strategies to resolve the problem.
  • Lastly, follow up with your children and see how they are feeling about the conflict and whether the solution has worked for both of them.

References

Edward, J. (2011). The sibling relationship: A force for growth and conflict. Lanham, Maryland:Jason Aronson [Imprint].

Recchia, H., & Howe, N. (2010). When do siblings compromise? Associations with children’s descriptions of conflict issues, culpability, and emotions. Social Development, 19(4), 838-857. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9507.2009.00567.x

Perlman, M., & Ross, H. S. (1997). The benefits of parent intervention in children’s disputes: An examination of concurrent changes in children’s fighting styles. Child Development, 68(4), 690-700. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.1997.tb04230.x