Novel Coronavirus/Covid-19 Parenting Questions

Helping young children understand social distancing

QUESTION: During this coronavirus crisis, I am struggling with getting my children to understand the need for social distancing.  We are all stuck at home together and they can’t understand why they can’t go out more, etc. My four-year-old girl says she misses visiting her Nana (who has COPD – chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – and is in self-isolation) and my six-year-old really misses football with his friends – this was his life.  I want to explain why all the changes are necessary without scaring them.  My six-year-old can be a bit of a worrier and I don’t want to add to this.

ANSWER:  The Novel Coronavirus, Covid19 crisis has come upon us really quickly. With schools off and families in self-isolation, our lives have utterly changed and become much more restrictive.  It is understandable that children are confused and unsure about what is happening.  All they initially might see is losses and new rules that are restricting them.

Getting young children on board
One of the positives in the Covid-19 crisis is how society has galvanised in a collective effort to defeat the virus.  Once people understand how important social distancing is to stop the spread and to protect the vulnerable, they collectively agree to serious restrictions on their personal freedoms.

Unimaginable even ten days ago, society has acquiesced to the closing of pubs and restaurants (indeed there was grassroots pressure for this to happen).  The key was everyone trusted the messaging and leadership – they knew what had to be done.

Young children are no different than adults in this regard.  Once they understand why something needs to done and once you explain the positive reason to help others, you will be surprised at how motivated they might become

Use child-centred language
In talking to young children it is important to take time to explain the message using concrete child-centred language that they understand.

For example, to explain why your four-year-old can’t visit Nana you might say: “There is a virus, called Covid19, that makes old people very sick.  Children can carry Covid19 but not know they have it.  So we can’t visit Nana in case we give her the virus. The good news is that we can talk to her and see her on the phone. She misses you very much and loves when you show her pictures or when you read your books together over the phone at bedtime”.

The key is to show children how they are helping others by their actions. You are showing how your daughter can protect Nana and also be kind to her by keeping in touch.

You can also use pictures or drawings to your children to explain how the virus spreads and importance of washing hands and social distancing.  There are also many children’s picture books just published online to explain all about the virus that you might be able to read together

Use a positive tone
Parents are often worried that difficult facts might scare children.  In reality, it is how things are explained rather than the facts that scare children the most.

Think of the different messages you have received about Covid and how these have made you feel.  In Ireland we have been fortunate to have clear, calm and concise messaging from our experts and leaders in recent days (contrast that with some of the international media outlets and leaders).

Once again children are no different than adults. Vague, inconsistent and confusing answers from anxious parents make for anxious children.  When you are talking to your children, think through what you want to say so you can be calm and clear about what they have to do.

The conversations don’t always have to be serious and a bit of humour and fun can help.  You can have fun learning how to wash hands by having a competition to see who does it the best or you can make a game practicing foot taps as a way of greeting and you can even make a drawing or write a story with your children on the heroic campaign to defeat the evil Covid-19!

Focus on alternatives
While there are many new restrictions and rules in your children’s lives, there are also new opportunities and alternatives.  As already discussed you can use video calls to help your children stay in touch with Nana.  You can also help your son learn to play socially distant football with one or two friends in the park.  You can set up the game whereby each player has to stay two metres apart and pass the ball after two touches – I am sure you and your son can think of lots of creative variations.

There may also be new opportunities within the new rules that you have not had the time and space to take up before.  Perhaps there is now time to complete that jigsaw, take out those board games or even help your children learn to cook, when there was never this time before.
Dr. John Sharry is CEO Parents Plus Charity
Published in The Irish Times newspaper, 20th March 2020. Read original here.

You may also like

Safer Internet Day takes place next Tuesday, 7th February 2023. Sadly more than 1 in 4 young people in Ireland have experienced cyberbullying, yet only 60% of victims tell their parents. As teenagers and children spend more time on the internet, ensuring it's a safe space is ever more important. To encourage conversation about life online and help parents keep their children safe, I'd like to share a free resource created by It's a comprehensive guide which includes things like:
  • How to reduce the risks online
  • How to recognise cyber bullying and grooming
  • How to educate children on cyber safety
  • How to set up parental controls on devices
I thought it may be useful to share the link to the guide - - which you can include on your website ahead of Safer Internet Day, to help parents and children who may need some extra support. We've also put together some handy top tips you can use on your website: 10 tips to keep your children safe online
  1. Talk about it:Make time to chat about online risks and how to use the internet safelyas soon as they're old enough to go online. Encourage your children to speak to you about what they view online and empower them to act if they're worried about anything.
  2. Recognise the risks: Educate yourself about the potential dangers children could face online so  it’s easier to spot warning signs. Get to know what platforms your children use, and learn about dangers such as phishing, grooming and cyberbullying.
  3. Teach the do's and don'ts: Be clear about the non-negotiables.  For example, teach your child not to share personal details or photos with strangers and instruct them not to click on links to unknown websites or texts. Do encourage your child to question what they see and only accept friend requests from people they know.
  4. Spot the signs: Pay attention to your children's behaviour whilst on and off their devices. Being alert to changes in your child can help prevent problems from escalating. Some warning signs are withdrawing from friends or family, sleeping and eating problems or losing interest in previously loved hobbies or interests.
  5. Set boundaries:Let your children know what they can and can't do on the internet from the get-go. Agree on what devices they can use, when, and how long they can spend online. As they get older, explaining and negotiating boundaries may be more effective.
  6. Take 'parental' control: These ready-made boundaries put parents in control of what children can see online. They can be set up through your internet provider at device level to block specific websites and filter out inappropriate content.
  7. Be social media savvy:  The popularity of social media apps like TikTok and Snapchat makes it harder to keep track of what your child is accessing online.  Fortunately, each social media platform has its own privacy settings and safety tips for parents. Check them out before you let children have their own accounts.
  8. Protect from harm:Install antivirus software on family devices to minimise the risk of cyber attacks or scams. Use two-factor authentication (2FA) for extra security on your online accounts. This can also stop children from signing into services they're not allowed to use.
  9. Set a great example:  You're the greatest 'influencer' in your children's lives when they're young.  Limiting your time online, discussing dangers you've come across, and questioning what you view can help reinforce the rules you are setting for your children and, in turn, influence their online behaviour.
  10. Seek support:The more you learn about online dangers, the better equipped you'll be to handle them. There are some great resources like  webwise.ieinternetmatters.organd to help you recognise and reduce online dangers and seek advice if you think your child is experiencing cyberbullying or is at risk online.
        Short videos on the Importance of Play have recently launched which was a collaboration between North Central CFSN and Lifestart Services.   Volume 1 Volume 2 Volume 3 Volume 4 Volume 5 Volume 6

Infant Mental Health Awareness Week runs from June 13th-19th.           

This week provides an opportunity to focus attention on the wellbeing, social and emotional development of our babies and young children. It highlights the importance of early relationships and a relationship based approach to interventions with infants and families. As our understanding of IMH and its evidence base develops, so also does our knowledge of how to apply this knowledge and an ‘IMH lens’ to interactions with infants, parents and caregivers in health and social services. 

What is infant mental health?

Infant Mental health (IMH) refers to the healthy social and emotional development of Infants starting at conception up to three years of age.

The first 1000 days of life are recognised as a critical period of opportunity to support infant mental health. Decades of research have shown that it is the quality of the early caregiver relationship that is a significant determinant of the infant’s healthy social and emotional development and in turn physical health, right up to adulthood.


The National Healthy Childhood Programme has embedded IMH as the foundation of the development of its resources and in the approach of the delivery of the universal child health service. This embedding of key messages can be seen in the My Child suite of books ( and also on  where key messages around bonding and relationship building have been embedded for the parent/caregiver.


In clinical practice the topic of IMH has been included for the first time in the National Standardised Child Health Record. To build on this, the National Healthy Childhood Programme have just completed a suite of three eLearning units which are now available on HSEland for healthcare practitioners / caregivers who are working with children and families.  


Throughout the week you will see videos and key IMH messaging being promoted on the HSE MyChild social media pages ( Facebook / Instagram ). Keep an eye out in the National Newspapers for articles from our experts also. (IrishTimes article)  


In addition The National Healthy Childhood Programme have developed a series of ten practical videos with HSE expert advice which are now available on YouTube and on the relevant pages on the website.

These videos (2-3 minutes each) are aimed at parents/guardians of children (0 – 3 years).

These new video resources are available here while lots more expert advice for every step of pregnancy, baby and toddler health can also be found at

There are a suite of posters available focusing on the promotion of IMH messaging to order from

Leave a comment