“When will it be over?” U.S. children’s questions and parents’ responses about the COVID-19 pandemic


Parent-child conversations are important for children’s cognitive development, children’s ability to cope with stressful events, and can shape children’s beliefs about the causes of illness. In the context of a global pandemic, families have faced a multitude of challenges, including changes to their routines, that they need to convey to their children. Thus, parent-child conversations about the coronavirus pandemic might convey information about the causes of illness, but also about how and why it is necessary for children to modify their behaviors to comply with new social norms and medical guidance. The main goal of this study was to examine the questions children ask about the COVID-19 pandemic and how parents answer them. This survey included responses from a national sample of 349 predominantly white parents of children between the ages of 3 and 12 recruited through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk in United States. Parents reported that although children asked about COVID-19 and its causes (17.3%), children asked primarily about lifestyle changes that occurred as a result of the pandemic (24.0%) and safety (18.4%). Parents reported answering these questions by emphasizing that the purpose of different preventative measures was to protect the child (11.8%) or the family (42.7%) and providing reassurance (13.3%). Many parents discussed how it was their social responsibility to slow the spread of the virus (38.4%). Parents of younger children tended to shield them from information about COVID-19 (p = .038), while parents with more knowledge were more likely to provide explanations (p < .001). Our analysis shows that families not only discuss information about the virus but also information about changes to their lifestyle, preventative measures, and social norms.

PLOS ONE, 16, e0256692
David Menendez
David Menendez
Postdoctoral Research fellow

My research interests include cognitive development, diagrams, and STEM education