How do you talk to your kids about a pandemic? To them, COVID-19 is just another string of letters and numbers. Sure, they know something is up, but they can’t imagine the magnitude. They’re just wondering why they can’t go to school or see their friends, or go out to eat at their favorite restaurant.

A pandemic isn’t something I ever thought I’d have to explain to my daughter. It’s not something that my parents ever had to explain to me! The fact is, we’re in uncharted territory. Sure, the world has seen its fair share of pandemics—H1N1 (swine flu), Ebola, Spanish Flu and loads more. But this is the first one of the modern age that’s causing entire countries to shut down.

So how do you explain what’s going on to your kids without causing panic, while still getting the seriousness of the message across? It’s a tricky conversation to have. Thankfully, the CDC has provided some guidelines, along with child psychology professionals. Here’s what they recommend:

  • Provide information that’s honest and accurate, in a capacity your child can understand. For young kids, keep it simple. “Lots of people are sick right now, and we have to stay home so we don’t get sick too.” For older kids, give them the unbiased facts. “Thousands of people are getting sick each day, and the best way to stop the spread of the virus is to limit contact.”
  • Explain things in a calm and reassuring tone. Kids mimic your emotions. If you’re scared and anxious, they’ll pick up on it. Put on a brave face, speak confidently and use non-alarming vocabulary. Convey seriousness without alarm.
  • Limit screen time where there’s discussion of COVID-19. Overexposure to media sources can create panic and anxiety in kids. This is easy for most young kids; for older kids, it’s good to provide context and monitor how much information they’re taking in, and from where.
  • Reassure your kids that their home is a safe place. It’s easy for them to see the world as a scary place during an unseen pandemic. If they feel safe at home, they’re less likely to develop panicked feelings. Combine this with an emphasis on proper hygiene and a clean home to show kids they’re safe.
  • Listen to your kids and answer their questions—they’re likely going to have some. Be patient and answer things to the best of your abilities, in a reassuring way. Again, emphasize the seriousness of COVID-19, but provide kids with the reassurance of being safe in their own home.

In addition to these tips, make sure to emphasize proper hygiene and handwashing. Teach kids to sneeze into their elbows, wash their hands after being outside and to tell you if they feel sick. It’s also smart to get kids outside in a limited capacity, so they see that it’s still okay to get fresh air. Walk the dog or take a stroll through the park, being sure to avoid others. Not only is it good for the body, it’s good for the mind.

Above all, kids need to feel safe and informed, to the degree that they can understand COVID-19. They might not understand what a pandemic is, but they can understand their role in the situation. Stay home, stay safe, and stay healthy!