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Talking to Your Kids About COVID-19 and Trip Cancellations


March 12, 2020

I don’t think most people could have imagined just how far-reaching the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak would be. Perhaps, medical professionals and scientists, but I doubt the average person gave it much thought unless they were either in a directly affected area or someone they loved was.

Unfortunately, with so much conflicting information floating around (“Don’t travel,” “You’re okay to travel, just don’t travel there.”), it has been difficult to discern just how serious this outbreak would get.

It has also caused many people to be downright nasty. I’ve read so many social media posts saying that anyone considering traveling during the COVID-19 outbreak was selfish. I get it. But, people should try to be kind and supportive of those whose plans were cancelled…some people saved up for years for a dream trip and this pandemic moved fast.

We were supposed to travel to Copenhagen during spring break (a place I researched during my doctorate and post-doc work). My oldest has wanted to travel internationally since she was a toddler and we felt the girls were now old enough to enjoy a trip abroad. We, obviously, aren’t going now. A friend’s trip to Disney was cancelled. A friend’s son’s study abroad program in Italy was cancelled…the list goes on.

And travel coverage? Ha! We’re looking at days—maybe weeks—for someone from the airlines and hotel to pick up the phone. Many in the travel industry don’t even know how to handle this, and I’m sure it is as stressful for them as it is for travelers.

Support One Another; Don’t Throw Stones

There is a lot of anxiety and disappointment, and this is a reminder that it’s okay to be bummed about changes in plans and stressed about all of the extra work we have in front of us, trying to get answers, refunds, vouchers or credits.

Be kind and understanding to co-workers or employees who may need to make personal calls during work hours, trying to get things straightened out. For example, I have to try to get someone on the phone at our Copenhagen hotel before 11:30am Eastern because the reservation department leaves sharply at 5pm CEST. So, that may mean I’m spending time in the morning trying to reach a real person. This isn’t a forever scenario…it’s just until we get things straightened out.

Communicating COVID-19 Implications to Kids

Although we, as adults, understand the public health crisis, it’s hard communicating to kiddos why trips (and field trips and sporting events and Girl Scout meetings) have to be canceled without freaking them out and causing them extra anxiety. I’m sending big hugs to teachers and parents who have to comfort disappointed kids while trying to keep them calm.

Here are some tips, compiled from both UNICEF and the CDC on how to talk to the littles in your life about the Coronavirus:

  1. Stay calm. Kids will pick up on your verbal and physical cues.
  2. Don’t minimize or brush off their concerns. Acknowledge that it’s okay to be scared and give them the opportunity to speak freely (or draw pictures or whatever helps them get out their feelings).
  3. Check in to see if they are experiencing or spreading stigma. Racial and cultural discrimination has been high since the outbreak, so talk about viruses can make anyone sick, regardless of the color of their skin, their nationality, the language they speak or their age.
  4. Show them how they can protect themselves. Show them how to properly handwash, singing a fun song (that lasts at least 20 seconds) while they’re washing. Talk about sneezing or coughing into their elbows and remind them if they feel a bit warm or not like themselves, to let you know immediately. And, perhaps, now is a good time to cut that nose-picking habit so many kiddos have!
  5. Practice what you preach. Wash your hands for 20 seconds. Cough or sneeze into your elbow (and then wash your hands again). Stay home from work if you’re sick. Get extra rest.
  6. Involve others. When we told our daughters we couldn’t go to Denmark, they were beyond devastated. I mean, hysterical crying and all. A quick note to their teachers let them know the girls were sad about the situation. I also asked the teachers to keep an eye on them and to call me if anything seemed out of whack. You never know what could trigger fear or disappointment while they’re at school.
  7. Give factual information. Don’t make assumptions. Don’t say this isn’t a big deal. Don’t say, “I will never come to our town.” You just don’t know. What you do know is that organizations like the CDC have the facts and present them in age-appropriate language.
  8. Listen. Sometimes, a reassuring hug or someone to hear them is all it takes for a little one to feel better. So, listen when they want to talk and monitor their moods and body language. If something is off, encourage them to open up.
  9. Help kids understand that this isn’t forever. Yes, handwashing and good hygiene are habits that should last a lifetime, but (hopefully) things like sports and school activity cancellations won’t last forever. It’s a good time to reiterate that if everyone does their part (see #4 and #5 above), they’ll once again be able to participate in the things they love to do. As for trips? This depends on your situation. We still want to go to Copenhagen, but it all rests on, well, the health of the world. We told our girls that perhaps this means we can go in the warmer summer months (versus colder, windy April) or during the magical Christmas season. Only time will tell.

We Will Travel Again

Yes, we are bummed that this pandemic is happening during the time we should be prepping for a trip of a lifetime. But, hopefully, people and economies will start to improve and we’ll be able to travel again soon.

Do you have any tips on how to talk to kids about the Coronavirus? Leave them below for our community!

How to talk to your kids about the coronavirus

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