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

Recognizing and Managing Stress for Parents

Woman stressed in front of a computer

Stress is an unavoidable part of life. Parents can experience stress related to a variety of situations. These situations can be ordinary, such as getting your children to school on time or rushing home from work to make dinner. On the other hand, they can be extreme, such as facing a serious illness or financial difficulties. Since stress can cause physical, emotional, and mental health issues if not well managed, it is important for parents to learn how to recognize and find ways to deal with stress.

How to Recognize Stress

Reflect and identify what causes you to feel stressed. Do you feel stressed in situations related to family, health, finances, work, or other situations?

Know your signs of stress. Everyone experiences signs of stress in different ways. Which of the following symptoms do you experience when you feel stress?

  • Headaches, muscle tension, neck or back pain
  • Upset stomach
  • Dry mouth
  • Chest pains, rapid heartbeat
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite or overeating
  • Lack of concentration or focus
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety

Reflect on and identify how you deal with stress. Determine if you turn to unhealthy behaviors to cope with stress, such as smoking, drinking alcohol, or overeating. Do these behaviors happen often or only during certain events or situations?

How to Manage Stress

Take care of yourself. It can be hard to find time for yourself when you are a parent, but it is important to take time for yourself, even if it is just a few minutes a day.

Try different stress-reducing activities. These activities can include meditation, yoga, taking a short walk, reading, or talking about your concerns with friends or family. Everyone manages stress in his or her own way, and you may have to try a few activities to see which ones work best for you.

Spend quality time with your family. Find activities that your family enjoys doing together. Take a walk or hike, have a family game night, or go to the movies.

Focus on changing only one behavior at a time. Unhealthy behaviors that develop because of stress can be difficult to change. Instead of making several changes at one time, focus on one behavior you would like to change or improve.

Reach out for support. Accepting help from supportive friends and family can improve your ability to manage stress. If you continue to feel overwhelmed by stress, you may want to talk to a doctor or psychologist, who could help you manage your stress and change unhealthy behaviors.

Additional Resources

References

American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Managing stress for a healthy family. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/managing-stress.aspx

American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Five tips to help manage stress. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/manage-stress.aspx

How to Talk to Kids About Tolerance, Acceptance, and Diversity

Biracial family posing for a picture

“Mom, why is that person in a wheelchair?”

“Dad, why do Sam and I look so different?”

We have all been there. Kids ask difficult questions, often at inconvenient times. Sometimes we shush them or feel embarrassed about the issue they have raised. As parents, teaching tolerance and acceptance and embracing diversity and inclusion are part of the job description – and it even can be one of the perks!

As parents, we can try to be prepared and put in place strategies that help our children understand the diverse world in which we live. Explore your family’s cultural and ethnic background. Many of the things we do every day as parents trace back to our cultural roots, and we may take for granted that our children understand why we do what we do. Be vocal, explore traditions, and tell stories. These actions and activities can open the door to exciting conversations with your kids.

Along with looking at your family’s background, explore and celebrate how other people do things. Learning with your kids can be an exciting way to build cultural competence and invite the value of inclusivity to your family. Exposure to other cultures, traditions, religions, races, and ethnicities can help children cultivate an understanding of who they are and an awareness of the diverse world around them. Attending cultural festivals, reading books that highlight diversity, eating different foods, encouraging diverse friend groups, and exploring cultural stereotypes in media are all great ways to build inclusive values.

Even when families have a solid foundation and family values that nurture and support acceptance, the time will come when your child shouts something that makes you feel uncomfortable in the moment. At this point, it is important to take a breath and respond in a manner that is calm, caring, positive, matter-of-fact, and non-judgmental. These moments provide some of your best opportunities to connect with your child and continue his or her learning about tolerance and acceptance in a meaningful way.

Additional Resources

Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness. (2018). Inclusivity: How to talk to your kids about tolerance and acceptance. Retrieved from http://talktoyourkids.info

PBS Parents. (2018). Talking with Kids. Positive Ways to Talk and Listen. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/parents/talkingwithkids/strategies.html

We’ve put together a list of books for kids about tolerance, acceptance, and diversity. Click here to download the book list.