Childhood trauma counselor offers advice on reassuring children during coronavirus crisis

By Jay Nies

The Blessed Mother consoles the infant Jesus in this mosaic depicting Our Lady of Perpetual Help, in the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Jefferson City. Photo by Jay Nies.

Adults want to keep children safe and healthy during the coronavirus outbreak, but it’s also important to look after their emotional health.

“In many cases, we pass our anxiety along to our children,” observed Nancy Hoey, a Catholic mother, licensed professional counselor and certified clinical trauma professional, who is a member of Cathedral of St. Joseph parish in Jefferson City.

“Although the coronavirus is something to be concerned about,” she stated, “it’s important to remember that our adult brains can reconcile things differently than a child’s, so we mustn’t cause them extra worry.”

She noted that children often look to their parents when figuring out how concerned or worried they should be about what’s happening in the news.

“Like the toddler who falls when running — if mom looks afraid, they will likely begin to cry,” she said.

The key is for parents and other influential adults to properly validate children’s worries without making them worse.

“Let’s say Johnny comes home and tells you that a classmate told him we were all going to die from the virus, and now he is worried,” she said. “Validate the emotion by saying, ‘Wow! I would be worried if someone told me that too.’”

Then, Mrs. Hoey recommended, talk to the child in a way that is age-appropriate but also calm his or her fears: “Yes, there is a virus. There are also a lot of people confused about what that really means. Just like every cold and flu season, we are extra careful to wash our hands, eat our healthy foods, take our vitamins and cover our mouths when we sneeze or cough. When we do that, we stay really healthy.”

Saying such things as “that’s silly” or “that isn’t something to worry about” doesn’t stop a child from worrying; it instead convinces the child to keep their worries to themselves.

Mrs. Hoey also recommended limiting children’s exposure to media coverage and being mindful of how that coverage may be affecting them.

She encouraged parents to remain patient if children need to “talk it out.”

Finally, she urged adults to pray with children every day and include in those prayers all the people affected by the coronavirus.

Visit for additional resources on speaking to children about the health crisis.