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

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 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


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

KidsHealth. (2018, July). What are Germs? Retrieved from

Helping Children be Socially Successful

A young child’s learning ability and development are impacted by a range of factors.  One of these factors is a child’s social health. A young child’s social health is primarily based on the quality of his or her relationships with peers and adults in his or her life (United States Department of Education, n.d.). Some questions you can ask yourself about your child’s social-health well-being and development include the following:

  • How open and enthusiastic is your child about sharing toys?
  • To what extent is your child willing to engage in age-appropriate cooperation and problem-solving with peers?

When you ask yourself these questions, if you find your child is not demonstrating social skills at a level consistent with his or her peers there are things you can do to improve your child’s social health development.

  • Encourage your child to engage in thick conversations with peers and other adults. Thick conversations are those in which a child is given many opportunities to speak by having the other participant ask open-ended questions and involve the child in back-and-forth conversations. While this may come more easily to some children, it is important that parents are warmly persistent. If your child seems uncomfortable, remain present during those exchanges to offer support or guidance.
  • Give your child opportunities to engage in pretend play with peers. Pretend play gives children the opportunity to explore different roles in life and when the occasions are experienced with peers, aids in the development of cooperative skills. Don’t be afraid to play along and ask questions about what is happening in the play. This can also be another opportunity to engage in thick conversations.
  • Choose media that reinforces positive social-health skills. Does the book you’re reading deal with making friends or sharing toys? Does the program your child is watching deal with the benefits of cooperating with peers? Ask your child questions about the themes you see in the media to help strengthen these learning experiences.

Developing the social health of your child will contribute to your child’s competencies, including empathy and self-control (United States Department of Education, n.d.). It is important for your child’s development that you encourage interactions with peers and adults that foster growth in your child’s social health.

Additional Resources

Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning. (n.d.). Family tools.

United States Department of Education. (n.d.). Fostering healthy social and emotional development in young children. Tips for families.



United States Department of Education. (n.d.). Fostering healthy social & emotional development in young children. Tips for early childhood teachers and providers.

Branch Out Coming Soon!

Branch Out Logo

Branch Out, a program for parents and caregivers of youth and teens ages 10 to 18 years old, is part of the Thrive Initiative. This Initiative is a portfolio of parent education programs that focus on family strengths and meet parents and caregivers where they are. During adolescence, youth need their parents’ attention and support more than ever. With so many changes and transitions happening during adolescence, this phase of life is a time of excitement and anxiety – for youth and their parents. Branch Out is being designed to support caregivers in their parenting roles as they, in turn, nurture their child as he or she transitions from childhood to adulthood.

Parents and caregivers will learn strategies in Branch Out that will help them to foster open and honest communication, support their adolescent’s development and independence, understand their adolescent’s point of view, establish boundaries and guidelines, cultivate positive relationships, establish safety measures, and recognize the benefits and risks of digital media.

Branch Out, like the other universal Thrive parent education programs – Take Root, Sprout, and Grow – will be available in a web-based format to civilian and military families at no cost in December 2021.