A Parent’s Guide to Unpacking Social Distancing and Flattening the Curve

* * * Don’t miss the free printable/downloadable resource at the end of this post! * * *

Where is your news coming from lately? I can’t stop reading all the articles, and I know that has translated to a lot more time staring at my phone than usual.

Where are your kids getting their news from? My first grader seems to hear EVERYTHING, and I often wonder what story she is putting together for herself absent of all the additional context I may have.

Certainly there is developmentally appropriate information about the coronavirus news to consider withholding.  For example, we choose to not share with our little kids the full extent of our worries about their grandparents.

We have, however, engaged them in intentional conversations that allow them the opportunity to make sense of the science.  I loved “Why outbreaks like coronavirus spread exponentially, and how to ‘flatten the curve’” from The Washington Post. It has fabulous animations, and our little kids went into full-on scientist mode when we talked about it.  They even asked if we could show the graphics to the big kids at the dinner table!


Advice from An Expert

Meghan Cassidy, LCSW-C, is a parent and/or therapist.    

We are currently living in unprecedented times.  With so much unknown and at stake, many of us are uncertain about what to share with our children, and how to do so.  How can parents share information about the impact of COVID-19 without it seeming too scary? Here are a few suggestions to get you going:

  •  Provide concrete, simple information and ideas

Children readily live in the present and are primarily focused on how events impact them directly.  Your child may at times ask future focused questions, but their concept of time is still forming. Explain to your children what is going on right now, and importantly, steps they can take to help.  Wash your hands while singing happy birthday twice! Stay at home with family! Give your children as much control in this situation as possible; when we feel in control, even on a small level, we are less fearful.

  • Validate their feelings

Sometimes when we see our children scared or worried, we want so badly for them to feel better that we do not always take the time to let them express emotion in the present.  If your child says ‘I am scared about getting sick from the virus’, assure them that their fear is an understandable reaction. You can respond with ‘I understand that you are afraid, can you tell me more about it?’  Sometimes people worry that by naming or recognizing an unpleasant emotion their children will be more likely to feel it. Conversely, suppressing or avoiding unpleasant emotions actually make them more disruptive. When we allow space for our children’s emotional responses, their feelings pass more readily.

  •  Take care of yourselves!

Children are more perceptive and aware than they may seem at times.  They may or may not have the words to verbalize, but children are able to sense and feel when primary adults in their lives are having a difficult time.  There are many reasons to feel worried right now, and we are experiencing significant disruptions to our normal routines. We need to take care of ourselves where possible.  Go for a hike in the woods, schedule a virtual happy hour with friends, or dedicate time to read a good book. Many of us are more tied to technology than ever right now, remember to maintain balance through access to nature and social connection where possible.

Parent’s Guide

I’m so excited to share with you this Parent’s Guide as a free resource to download or print.  This guide is designed to engage you and your elementary-school-age-learner in an inquiry-based science talk about a news article.  There are opportunities to build background knowledge, and dive deeper into interpretation. I encourage you to maintain a role of question-asker and facilitator of thinking, while letting your learner do the heavy lifting.


And the end of our conversation, we also looked at this image.  I’ve seen so many different versions online that I’m unsure how to credit the original creator, but here’s the first one I came across.

We reassured our little kids about how incredibly safe they are.  We affirmed that we know staying home is already hard. We also reframed staying home at the most radical act of kindness right now.  We can actually save lives.  We know we are going to be okay, and this is one thing we can do to help others also be okay.

Building community in new ways

I’m glad you’re here. Please use the comment section below to share what your learner had to say about this article, what other guides you would like to see, or other articles you think are kid-friendly! Subscribe to the blog or follow us on Facebook so you never miss a post!

Sarah is a parent and/or educator, depending on what moment of the day you catch her 😉

Read more in the About section and the first blog post.

Guest Co-Author

Meghan is a parent and/or therapist, depending on which hat she’s wearing that day! 

Read more on her website and blog .

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