How To Talk with Kids about COVID-19

We are parenting in an unprecedented time, and that means our kids have unprecedented questions and concerns. Knowing how much to tell them is seriously tough. What is appropriate to tell my three year old? And what am I supposed to tell my school-ager who wants to go over to a friend’s house? And how do I talk with my teenager about all rumors they have heard floating around?

Well at The Science of Parenting we focus on sharing research-based information that fits your family. So we have put together some trustworthy resources that guide you in having these tough conversations with your kids. Check them out below (and look for more information on our COVID-19 webpage for parents).

Centers for Disease Control and PreventionTalking with Children about Coronavirus Disease 2019 General tips for talking with our children based on the most current facts we have about the pandemic

Department of Family Science from the University of Marylandthese pages provide parents with specific questions to ask and words to use based on your child’s age.

Zero to Three Answer Your Young Child’s Questions about Coronavirus
This website provides specific language parents can use to answer questions that young children may have.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (free download of PDF on the right side) – Talking with Children: Tips for Caregivers, Parents, and Teachers During Infectious Disease Outbreaks
This resource looks at how children of different ages may be reacting to the outbreak and provides tips for talking with each age group.

Mackenzie Johnson

Parent to a little one with her own quirks. Celebrator of the concept of raising kids “from scratch”. Learner and lover of the parent-child relationship. Translator of research with a dose of reality. Certified Family Life Educator.

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Are we even communicating?

father son talking
Rearview shot of a father and his son bonding on their porch at home

Talk. Conversation. Communication. My last blogs on talk and conversation led me to communication. Have you ever asked this “Are we even communicating?” Or how about “Is anything I’m saying getting through?” As parents I KNOW you have asked yourself this at least one time.

Communication can almost be a four letter word, right? Every self-help book, leadership seminar, guidance and discipline book – EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE in EVERY part of our life seems to share about the importance of communication. If you’re like me, (please say you’re like me) then I know you have thrown your hands in the air and exclaimed “But it’s TOO hard!”. I’m angry, I’m exhausted, I’m hungry, I’m all these things and frankly I don’t WANT to communicate sometimes.

What do I do? I stomp off to the bathroom. Splash cold water on my face and look up. ARGH. Right then it hits me. That person in the mirror is the adult. I’m the parent. It’s my job to muddle through all the “I don’t want to”’s and make the communication happen. Me. It’s up to me. I need to talk, converse and communicate. All three.

The definition of communication has these words: exchanging, sending and receiving. This implies that in communication you will be the recipient of some type of information. Therefore, you will need to listen in order to receive it.

I freely admit, there are times when my children try to converse with me and I am not listening. I may be looking at my phone, writing a blog (oops) or watching tv. My children don’t look at my schedule and say “Oh I think I’ll have a conversation with mom at 5:17 right in between work and exercise.” They pick the moment that THEY are ready to converse. 7:28 a.m. (in the rush of school prep) or 11:26 a.m. (their lunch break but not mine) or even 10:06 p.m. (after my phone is on silent but their college studying is just beginning). Sometimes I remember to physically or figuratively splash the cold water and engage in the conversation. Other times, my child may have to say “mom did you hear me?”.

No parent is perfect.

There are going to be missed opportunities to have conversations with our children. However, no matter the age of the child, when they have something to say, and we the adult take a moment to converse, the more opportunities we will continue to have as they grow.

Additional resources can be found here.

Lori Korthals, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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We need to have a conversation

Shot of a mother and daughter at home
Shot of a mother and daughter at home

Talk. Conversation. Communication. My last blog hinted that I had some things to say about these three words. We started with Talk. Now we need to have a conversation.

Sometimes as adults we struggle when it comes to having a big conversation with our children. Do we tell our children the bad news? Should we sit down with them and share about the scary situation miles away? Do we explain in depth about our families change of plans? Often times we choose what I call the ‘Just say nothing at all and see if they ask’ option. C’mon you know that option too!

I also know that plan has backfired on me many times when my children start the big conversation at a random time when I’m not prepared and often when others are in ear shot and are suddenly also waiting to hear what I have to say. “Momma? Just how DID my brother get out of your tummy?” or “Jessica told me that my cat didn’t go live at the farm but that daddy took it to the vet to die.” or how about “When the school shooter bursts through the doors at our school we are supposed to hit them with our books”. Yeah THOSE conversations. The ones that you need to have note cards and a glass of water to get through.

Admittedly these conversations are difficult. Tough to get through. And yet may I suggest vitally important to creating and maintaining a healthy relationship with your child. Tackling the big topics together (yes, with note cards and a glass of water if needed) shows your children that you are interested in both their questions and their concerns. They likely have both. There is no better way to show children that you are there for them when you tackle their big questions and concerns together.

So what stops us? Often it could be as simple as us not feeling like we have all the answers. Or feeling unsure of how to even start the conversation. Guess what? That’s what the note cards are for. The water is for dry mouth. It is always alright for us to use notes, consult with others or to even say “I actually don’t know”. Having a conversation doesn’t mean that we have to know everything before starting. Sometimes we can learn along the way as we go through the process of conversing.

Big Conversations. Scary at times? Yes. Important to a healthy relationship with your child? Absolutely.

Find more resources here.


Lori Korthals, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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Can we talk?

father son talking and walking
Father and son in public park

Talking. Conversation. Communication. I have been having some thoughts on those three words recently, so I thought I might come here to share them with you. This may take several posts but I don’t think I’m the only one with these thoughts.

Talking. Let’s start with the obvious one. And let’s just go ahead and start at the top with the big kids. I’m talking about you and me. The adults.

Talk. We talk out loud. We talk with our hands and body language. We even talk inside of our head where no one else can hear. Sometimes as a parent don’t you feel like you are constantly talking and no one is listening? I can’t help but wonder however, if the reason we think no one hears us is because the talk from our mouth isn’t matching the talk from our body language or even the talk inside our head?

     We say out loud, “Stop IT!”

     Inside of our head we hear “Stop jumping on the furniture”.

     However, our body language shows that we aren’t really interested because we are looking at our phone.

We, in fact, are talking, but no one is listening. Could it possibly be that we are talking but not truly communicating? When we talk are we truly conveying the message we desire.

Example: Looking at my phone I say to the child, “Stop IT!” OR I turn and look at the child and say, “Stop jumping on the furniture and go jump outside”. It seems obvious and pretty clear cut that the second option actually conveys what we want to say. So simple, yet.

I actually had this exact scenario happen in my grown up life with another adult. I was the one saying “Stop IT”. The other adult looked at me and said “Stop what?”. I was stunned. Wasn’t it obvious what I was asking? Actually, no, it wasn’t obvious to anyone but me. Since that time I have found myself constantly recognizing and identifying what I call the ‘Stop IT’ syndrome. Some type of talking that is too vague to the listener but completely obvious to the talker. In the end however, no one is actually communicating.

So how do we remedy this ‘Stop IT’ syndrome? It’s up to us the adult to take the time to be clear about our expectations. Why are we making the request? “I don’t want the furniture to break or have you get hurt.” What is the desired outcome and what is it we what to see instead? “I don’t want you to jump on the furniture, please go jump outside”.

Talking. It seems simple but actually takes some energy and thought to have others hear what we say.

Check out our Guidance by Age resources here.


Lori Korthals, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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Stop. Breathe. Talk. in Action

I wanted to share this comment I received from a reader. Thank you Mackenzie for allowing me to share your thoughts with our readers.

“I’m a parent of a mostly happy seven month old daughter. I’m also an adult educator who helps parents understand the important difference between reacting (when we let our immediate emotions decide how to react to a child’s behavior) and responding (when take a moment to stop and think about how we actually want to respond to our child’s behavior). One simple way to remember this difference is to tell yourself to “Stop. Breathe. Talk.” It sounds so simple, right? And most people assume I must get it right every time, but that is NOT true… In my head I know that my daughter feels things intensely (like her momma does) and responds with the same intensity because she doesn’t have the skills to cope appropriately yet. And still, in the heat of an overwhelming moment, I definitely have to take that second to think to myself, “Stop. Breathe. Talk”.

“Like last night, my teething daughter was up for the second time in the middle of night (a phase I thought we had finally made it through). I picked her up from her crib and tried to soothe her back to sleep for a few minutes. When she calmed down, I set her back into the crib and headed back to bed. Seconds after I get back under the covers, I hear the crying start again. It’s the middle of the night, I’m tired. I start to huff back to her crib irritated. As I walk I’m saying to myself, “Just sleep! Why won’t you sleep? I’m so sick of this!” I walk up to her crib… “Wait,” I think to myself. “She isn’t doing this to you. She is having a hard time and needs her momma to help her through this.” So I stop. I walk into the hallway. I take a deep breath. I walk back up to her crib. In a calm voice I say, “I know, sweet girl. Getting teeth is hard work. Mommy is here.” I pick her up and rub her back. Her body relaxes and after a few minutes, I set her down in her crib, totally asleep.”

“Even as someone who teaches these skills to fellow parents, I know I don’t get it right every time. But in the moments where I remind myself to “Stop. Breathe. Talk”, I do better. That extra second gives me the chance to consider my emotions and reaction, and change it into the kind of response I want to have. ”


Consider one of the last frustrating interacting you had with your child. Would it have ended differently if you had chosen to Stop. Breathe. Talk.? Comment and tell us about a time when this strategy has worked for you! We’d love to hear from you!”

Lori Korthals, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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Stop. Breathe. Talk

Research shows that physical punishment and yelling is harmful.

So what can we do instead?




As we wind down our conversations on guidance & discipline it becomes important to just step back and focus on 3 simple steps. At any age and in any situation we can help ourselves by remembering to take a moment to stop, take a breath and use a calm voice as we talk to our child about our expectations.

No matter what age our children are, we can stop, breathe and talk. Even a crying infant can be comforted by our slowed breathing and calm reassuring voice. Toddlers can see our calm demeanor and notice our quieter voice. The elementary and middle school child notices that we are role-modeling actions for them to mirror.

Talk doesn’t mean lecture. It can be as simple as, “I hear you” or “I see that you are upset right now”.  Allowing children a safe place to express their strong feelings while we model a calm, cool and collected approach, is the best kind of guidance and discipline we can give our child.



Lori Korthals, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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