TOPSHOT - This photo taken on February 19, 2020 shows laboratory technicians testing samples of virus at a laboratory in Hengyang in China's central Henan province. - The death toll from the COVID-19 coronavirus epidemic jumped to 2,112 in China on February 20 after 108 more people died in Hubei province, the hard-hit epicentre of the outbreak. (Photo by STR / AFP) / China OUT (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)
Here's how the novel coronavirus outbreak unfolded
02:32 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

Talking about the coronavirus is hard enough when you’re an adult. The information, numbers and advice concerning the outbreak seem to shift by the day, and the abstract nature of the threat can invite plenty of fear and uncertainty.

However, if everyone is talking about the coronavirus, your children are definitely listening. Here is some expert advice on how to have these important conversations, and keep your child safe and reassured when their normal social routines are completely disrupted.

1. Don’t wait until they come to you

Even the most scrupulous and watchful parent or guardian can’t keep children from hearing about something as widely discussed as the coronavirus. And trust the experts: Your kids already know. “The chances of a child, of any age, to not have heard about this is really low,” says Robin Gurwitch, PhD, a psychologist and professor at Duke University.

“We don’t always know where children learn things from. It could be from teachers or older students at school, and any child with a social media footprint or access to media in any way has definitely picked up something.”

Getting ahead of the conversation, then, is essential, says David Schonfeld, a developmental behavioral pediatrician and member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Disaster Preparedness. “Kids can misinterpret things, they can overgeneralize and believe misinformation.”

In fact, Schonfeld says, ignoring the conversation can cause more harm than good. “You can’t count on children to bring up difficult topics. If you ignore the subject, they may think the discussion is inappropriate or naughty or upsetting. So you need to present yourself as a source of information and let them know they can come to you.”

2. Ask questions

Of course, every parent or guardian wants to reassure children. But, as Schonfeld says, “You can’t reassure people until you find out what they’re worried about.” Below are some lines and questions that he and Gurwitch suggested to open the conversation:

  • “There’s been a lot of talk about the coronavirus. Tell me what you’ve heard about it.”
  • “What do you think about this?
  • “How does it make you feel?”
  • “What questions do you have?”

“Asking questions lets you know where they’re coming from,” says Gurwitch. “It allows us to correct any misinformation, clarify points and know where we want to enter in to the conversation.”

3. Keep information simple and useful

“There is so much information out there,” says Schonfeld. “What you need to do is filter down the information and distill it to what’s clear, relevant to the individual, and give them what can be used to take immediate action.”

In other words, while you want to be open and communicative with your child, resist the urge to bombard them with every possible headline or piece of information about the outbreak.

Schonfeld also suggests trying to keep the conversation productive and positive. For instance, if you were to bring up vaccines, instead of saying there are no known vaccines, say medical experts are working on trying to develop one.

Talking with your kids can help clear up anxieties, misinformation or misheard claims picked up  elsewhere, like at school.

4. Validate their concerns

There’s no reason to ignore the truth: The idea of an epidemic can inspire