Don’t Panic! How parents and families can respond to the COVID-19 outbreak

Parents, help mitigate panic and communicate realistic expectations to your children.

It feels as if individuals are falling into two camps in response to the Coronavirus outbreak: panicking or dismissive. Neither reaction is helpful. Instead, we need to take preventative measures seriously and think beyond ourselves. 

Panic: A Selfish Response

Panic can bring out the worst in some: people stealing masks from hospitals, hoarding hand sanitizer, and buying caseloads of water. These reactions show a regression to thinking only of ourselves and our own basic needs and not being mindful of the impact these actions have on others in our community. What happens if people don’t have access to basic supplies because other people hoarded? 

Social Distancing: It’s Not About You

Are you in the dismissive camp when it comes to the seriousness of the pandemic and the need for social distancing? This is a little more subtle, but important. Again, it’s not all about you. Over and over again, the scientific community has posted articles recommending that we practice social distancing and other preventative measures to help slow down the rate of virus transmission and buy hospitals, doctors, and scientists more time to figure out how to treat the virus. It also gives us time to get through the flu season, so we don’t have both flu and Coronavirus patients in the hospital at the same time. Past instances of school closures have taught us that self-containment CAN be a very effective way to slow down, if not stop the spread of a disease. However, it requires that each individual and each family, take some personal responsibility. 

Doing Your Part

You  may not think or know that you (or your children) have the virus, but it is still important to practice social distancing. The worry is that individuals (including youth)  may be infected and not show symptoms for 2-14 days; as a result, they may unknowingly infect others. That’s why it’s important to heed the guidelines (from the CDC Chart under Prevention) such as limiting visitors, finding remote ways to communicate with family and friends, and limit movement in the community.  Remember, symptoms take several days to develop and can often be mistaken for the common cold or seasonal allergies. So, the more people you interact with, the more the chance of passing something on or getting something yourself. Also, children and adolescents may present differently; PLUS, they are notoriously bad at hand washing and keeping their distance from their peers. Try having a sleepover without having your kids share food or drinks or getting in each others’ personal space. 

“The effectiveness of school closures is based on the premise that kids stay home with their families and limit other contacts. Ajelli points out that if parents “regroup” children to meet child care needs or if teens congregate freely outside school, the closure won’t be as effective”. – from NPR’s March 11th article When should Schools Close for the Coronavirus? 

It’s up to each family, to help make social distancing work. 

Parents, this means you need to tell you kids they CAN’T convene at Starbucks, go to the movies, or hang out at the mall. Please say no to sleepovers, taking your kids to Jumpin Joey’s, OR offloading your kids to someone else. We (the entire community) need to hunker down and stay at home with our children. If you and your kids aren’t sick, you can go outside, take walks, and ride your bikes. However, the point is to avoid contact with other people and avoid spreading the transmission of the disease both by direct contact AND through touching surfaces. Students and families should take the social distancing recommendations seriously and limit any social interaction to ESSENTIAL interactions, such as going grocery shopping, to doctor’s appointments, or attending therapy sessions. This requires making significant changes to our routines. We’re all on the honor system and I’m hopeful that we can come together to make this work. 

Talking to Our Kids

It’s important to help your child sift through (and limit) the information they’re exposed to. Make sure they know the difference between facts and rumors. Share relevant and factual information with your children that is developmentally appropriate. Help them translate and understand the information that is available. Also, reassure them with facts: that children are the least at risk, most cases in children are mild; those most at risk are the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. If they ARE at risk, talk to them about the steps you are taking to keep them safe. Don’t minimize any anxiety but address it directly and help them have a bank of coping skills and activities they can do, to feel more in control. Even if schools are closed, it can be important and comforting to have a daily routine or schedule to follow. Kids like some structure and predictability. Limit news exposure and highlight the things you CAN do when you’re together: baking, art projects, gardening, bike rides, nature hunts, reading, board games, and card tricks. 

Helping Others

Let’s be smart, think of ourselves AND others, and work together to help ourselves and our community be safe. In Arlington, teachers and community members have organized to collect food and other supplies to ensure that needy students and their families don’t go hungry while schools are out. The campaign is called Opt In One Pantry at a Time. Their objective is to get $100 grocery gift card into the hands of every APS student that qualifies for free or reduced lunch. This is an example of people thinking of their community and taking steps to make sure we ALL get through this together.  So, after you wash your hands, do something for someone else. 


Sometimes it’s difficult to translate the information we’re being bombarded with. Below are some reliable sources that can help guide your decisions. 

CDC: Implementation of Mitigation Strategies for Communities with local COVID-19 Transmission 

Bullet points from the CDC Chart under Prevention include limiting visitors, finding remote ways to communicate with family and friends, and limit movement in the community. 

The Atlantic: The Does and Don’ts of ‘Social Distancing’: Experts weigh in on whether you should cancel your dates, dinner parties, and gym sessions March 12, 2020 

The writer polls a series of public-health experts on what social distancing should look like for different populations. 

NPR: When should schools close for Coronavirus? March 11, 2020

“There’s a further problem here: The effectiveness of school closures is based on the premise that kids stay home with their families and limit other contacts. Ajelli points out that if parents “regroup” children to meet child care needs or if teens congregate freely outside school, the closure won’t be as effective”.

Newsweek: Young and Unafraid of panic: Good for you, now stop killing people. March 11, 2020

From the article: “My personal as well as professional view: we all have a duty to stay put, except for very special reasons, like, you go to work because you work in healthcare, or you have to save a life and bring someone to hospital, or go out to shop for food so you can survive. But when we get to this stage of a pandemic, it’s really important not to spread the bug. The only thing that helps is social restriction.  

Slate: Should schools close for COVID-19? March 10, 2020

From the Article: “COVID-19 is not the same as the flu. But based on what we know about how the flu and other respiratory infections spread, children are likely to be vectors. For one, kids are terrible at personal hygiene (my 5-year-old meandered up to me yesterday morning without realizing she had blood and snot coming out of her nose), and many adults are more than happy to cuddle with kids, snot-and-blood-encrusted and all. If you saw an adult walking down the street, hacking, with mucus all over their face, you’d know to keep your distance. But if it is your 3-year-old, “you’ll wipe your sleeve on their face and give them a hug,” Fisman says. Even if kids with COVID-19 aren’t as contagious as adults, given the eagerness with which they share their germs, they could still be important infection-spreaders. And “even a low level of transmission from kids to other kids, or kids to adults, would be worrying,” says Josh Michaud, associate director for global health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation”.

“If kids spread COVID-19, then it stands to reason that where they go and whom they spend time with will have important implications for the spread of COVID-19. Plus, if kids only get mild symptoms such as cold symptoms or a dry cough, then they could easily end up attending school with COVID-19, and no one would know. Young kids rarely if ever get symptoms of a common and usually mild virus called cytomegalovirus, for instance, but they are key transmitters of the infection to others”.