How to Speak with Children about COVID-19

By Anna Lupinacci, MS, OTR/L

Although children generally are adapting to coronavirus-related changes in their day-to-day lives, this new way of living continues to be a challenge for many youngsters with special needs – and for their caregivers. Changes in routine can generate anxiety, especially when fear of illness is added to the equation.

To help children and their families cope, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has created a helpful web page at with guidance for speaking with children. CDC recommends that parents and caregivers:

Remain calm and reassuring, both in what you say and how you say it.

Make yourself available to listen and to talk. Make time to talk and be clear that they can come to you with questions any time.

Avoid blaming language. Viruses can come from anywhere and can make anyone sick.

Pay attention to what children see or hear about COVID-19 on TV, radio, or online. Too much information on one topic can lead to anxiety.

Provide information that is honest and accurate. Be truthful. Give children age-appropriate information.

Teach children everyday actions to reduce the spread of germs. Wash hands often, for 20 seconds, with warm water and soap. Sneeze into a tissue or their elbow; throw the tissue in the trash. Avoid people who are coughing or sneezing. Use hand sanitizer (supervised).

To the CDC recommendations, I would add that we should:

  • Limit the number of conversations we have with our children to what’s developmentally appropriate for them.
  • Keep your messages positive, e.g., we’re wearing the mask to keep ourselves healthy. We’re washing our hands to make sure they stay clean to be healthy. Make the message positive and light.

From an occupational therapy perspective, now is a good time to go back to our meditation, breathing and sensory exercises to calm down and de-stress. Rather than trying to acquire new therapy skills, like handwriting or arithmetic, pause and work on stress management with mindfulness, yoga, aerobic exercises and other techniques outlined in my recent blog on anxiety.

Attached are some useful tools. One is a social story that explains to children in picture form the importance of washing their hands and wearing a mask out in the community, and perhaps when they go back to school; this might be particularly useful with children with autism.

Also attached are two occupational therapy schedules for children. Developed by Christina Fischer, OTR, these are examples of the activity schedules our therapists follow when we go into schools virtually. One is for pre-K and the other for elementary school-age youngsters.

Finally, I’ve attached a flyer of occupational therapy ideas by Lindy Litos, COTA.

As always, please note that ideas in the OT flyer are just a sample of one creative and functional treatment plan we have devised for our students during home instruction or remote learning. This is to be used in addition to live virtual sessions; it is not a replacement for medical or therapeutic advice. Parents should always consult with their doctor and therapist regarding their child’s care.

Occupational Therapy by Lindy Litos.pdf
PreK OT Suggestions
Bee Well OT Suggestions