The Current

How should you talk to your child about coronavirus? Start by asking if they're worried, says pediatrician

Have your children asked about coronavirus? Dr. Hirotaka Yamashiro tells us how to talk to your children — and ease their anxiety — about the virus.

Important to seek help if anxiety about virus is affecting a child's day-to-day life, doctor says

A boy wearing a face mask stands in the check-in line with his family at Dulles International Airport, Va., on Thursday. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
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This story was originally published Feb. 26, 2020.

A leading pediatrician says the most common question he gets from children worried about coronavirus is not about their own welfare, but about how to protect the people they care about.

"They really get worried about those immediately around them," said Dr. Hirotaka Yamashiro, chair of the pediatrics section of the Ontario Medical Association.

"They want to know is there a chance my friends could get it, my mom and dad — what could I do to prevent getting this virus?" he told The Current's Matt Galloway.

The World Health Organization labelled the COVID-19 outbreak as a pandemic Wednesday. As of midday Friday, there were 180 confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 in Canada, including a two-year-old child in Calgary, and a baby boy in Ontario

Children wearing face masks play at a park in Beijing on Feb. 21. (Stringer/Reuters)

Yamashiro says it's up to parents how much information they share with their children, but that it is important to "make sure that you ask them if they're worried about it, and if they are, what are they worried about?"

He says he reassures children that really bad cases are rare.

"We know that most people who get the virus will either not get any symptoms, or they will get a very mild illness," he said.

He says it can be useful to compare the relatively small number of coronavrius cases to the rate of influenza — familiar to children as the flu — which the WHO estimates affects an estimated 1 billion people every year

"It is a good opportunity to say that the way you protect yourself and the people you love around you is to wash your hands, wash your hands and wash your hands," he told Galloway.

"That is by far the most important thing." 

Dr. Lennox Huang, chief medical officer at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children, answers questions about how the coronavirus affects children. 2:30

If anxiety about the virus is starting to affect a child's day-to-day life, it's important to seek help, he said.

"Talk to their doctor, their pediatrician or their family doctor, because it's very easy to get them targeted counselling and things that will help them alleviate that anxiety," he said.

"Anxiety can be a very insidious, very debilitating thing for many people."


Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Howard Goldenthal.

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