May 4, 2020

Nurses Share 4 Tips and a Children's Book That They Use To Talk To Kids About COVID-19

Mother with children wearing face masks at grocery store

Historically, nurses have always been exposed to occupational hazards in the workplace. But the COVID-19 pandemic may be especially frightening for children who know their parents are going to fight the virus on the frontlines. 

Nurses are doing everything they can to disinfect after a shift and even moving out of the house completely to prevent COVID-19 transmission to their families. But the children of nurses may have a unique fear of their parents getting sick. This is especially true for children who are barraged with coronavirus news on social media. 

There is quite a bit of information available about how to talk to kids about coronavirus. Still, not many are discussing how frontline nurses, who are most susceptible to COVID-19 (especially with PPE shortages), are talking to their kids about their risks.  

What nurses are saying:

Nurses working directly with COVID-19 patients may face especially difficult conversations when it comes to educating their children about the coronavirus. Especially when kids already know exactly what their nurse-parents do on a day-to-day basis.  

But these nurses have great advice to share about how to talk about COVID-19 with children.

Shared custody during the coronavirus pandemic 

Donalee Waschak, critical care and front line COVID-19 RN in Los Angeles, is a parent of three children, two of whom are teenagers. She said her conversations have revolved around figuring out the best way to maintain health and safety at home, with her working as a nurse as well as having a shared visitation with her children’s dad.  

“The boys and I had to agree on a garage detox area for handling all items to be placed in a quarantine area before bringing them into the home. This was strongly enforced as a bedside nurse who really did not want to live in a tent in the garage during this pandemic.”

She also said that “the boys opted to only have their father visit at their primary residence” which was with her. “This eliminated the movement of items between homes. It also decreased exposure and the boys would not need to sleep in a different home every few days,” she said.  

Most importantly, she stated that “these changes decreased my children’s anxiety by 90% or more”  but that, unfortunately, “ it did not decrease the boredom and itch to go and visit with friends.” 

Donalee shared additional advice about talking to teenage children about COVID-19, including playing the collaborative board game “Pandemic” and sharing the best parody about COVID-19 each week.  

“Help your kids look at the information out in the media and teach them how to decide if it is a reliable source. As a family, choose 2-3 sources to follow. My oldest son and I also share TED talks and posts weekly on COVID updates.”

Front line nurses with symptoms explain COVID-19 to children

Laurie Halbrook, a registered nurse from New Orleans, explained that she struggled with talking to her kids about the coronavirus, especially as she quarantined herself after coming down with symptoms (she later found out that she had bronchitis, and was negative for COVID-19).  

She told them, "You know there's a big germ that's out there that's hurting a lot of people, and I want to snuggle with you more than anything in the world right now, but Mommy can't sleep with you. I need to stay away to keep you safe."

Nurses use COVID-19 to reinforce handwashing habits

Stacy Wells, a nurse who works on a COVID-19 unit and mother of a two and seven-year-old, said that the coronavirus discussion is “slightly less of a challenge" than it would be if her kids were old enough to be using social media.

"My seven-year-old has heard me talk about taking care of COVID-19 patients. I get nervous about bringing the virus home, but I make sure that I am relaxed when I talk to her, so she doesn't pick up on my anxiety. We have also set up a handwashing station in the kitchen and bathroom where she sings a ‘clean hands’ song for 30 seconds.  I think that is the most important lesson we can teach her about all this. She loves it.”

Refer to the Centers For Disease Control (CDC) to learn more about talking to children about COVID-19:

The CDC emphasized the importance of having an honest, factual conversation with children about the coronavirus pandemic. As the virus continues to spread, many kids may hear about friends or family members becoming ill with the disease. In addition, misinformation about the virus is circulating.    

The CDC created a guide to assist parents in having a crucial conversation with their kids about COVID-19, and how they can teach them to do their part in preventing the spread of the disease.

The CDC's recommended general principles of talking to children about COVID-19 include:

  • Remain "calm and reassuring" as children will react to how you speak to them about the pandemic.
  • "Make yourself available to talk" so your children know that they can talk to you about their fears when they need to.
  • Avoid blaming any particular groups that might lead to stigma, as COVID-19 can make "anyone sick, regardless of a person's race or ethnicity."
  • Be aware of what your children are watching on the news or social media, as it can lead to anxiety.
  • Provide honest information that is relative to your child's developmental age.
  • Discuss social distancing measures to help prevent the virus's spread.
  • Teach them to cough or sneeze into their elbow.

Most importantly, the CDC says to teach kids how they can reduce this spread of germs by developing a handwashing habit with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after blowing their nose, coughing, or sneezing, going to the bathroom and before preparing food or eating.

This Nurse Wrote a Children’s book: “Dave The Dog Is Worried About Coronavirus” 

Illustration of dave the dog and an owl

One nurse wrote and illustrated a children's book to help explain coronavirus and calm fears.

Molly Watts, an intensive care pediatric nurse in Southampton England, wrote and illustrated a picture book for children called Dave The Dog Is Worried About Coronavirus. Her goal was to reduce fears and anxieties for children surrounding the outbreak as well as open an honest dialog through a story that children could understand.

In the story, Dotty helps Dave manage his anxiety about COVID-19 symptoms, social distancing, and possible hospital stays for some who contract the disease.

The downloadable 28-page book can help parents start a conversation with their children about the disease.

On her reason for writing the book, Molly said, “With everyone talking and worrying about what is going on, I kept thinking about the impact this must be having on children. I hope the story helps parents to start a conversation with their children about coronavirus and hopefully alleviates some of their anxiety.”