One of the most difficult things about being a parent is helping our kids feel safe in the face of the bad or frightening things that happen in life … especially when we might feel worried or afraid, too.

The news coverage (and social media firestorm) about the new coronavirus named COVID-19 has led to widespread panic around the world. At the same time that we’re trying to understand this virus and how it might affect our families, our youngsters are also dealing with this illness they don’t quite understand. Some local schools have closed, and in those that remain open as of this writing, students are getting lessons in handwashing and hygiene, while watching the adults around them try to disinfect everything in sight.

Kids take their emotional cues from the adults in their lives. If you’re afraid of this new virus, your children are probably picking up on it. They’re overhearing the anxious conversations between moms and wondering if COVID-19 will make them sick — or if they’ve seen news coverage — possibly even kill them. When they hear comments about the danger the virus poses for some seniors, they may worry about their parents, grandparents or older neighbors.

So how can parents help their kids understand the seriousness of what’s happening without causing them to panic? For starters, refuse to fall victim to panic yourself. There is no need to become obsessed with the nonsense many self-described experts are posting on social media sites. Ignore the “what ifs” people are posting on Facebook and other apps. Instead, become educated about the realities of the virus by checking with reputable sources like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC)  and the Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH), and your family’s doctor.

Your actions serve as a model for your children, so instead of panicking, focus on preparation. Pay attention to what medical experts are recommending, primarily the emphasis on washing hands frequently and keeping surfaces clean. In other words, do what you would normally do during cold and flu season.

Also, there is no need to engage in speculation. Instead, focus on the facts. If your kids ask questions about the virus, visit the sites mentioned above and look through the information with them. When the kids come home with scary stories they’ve heard about the virus, use it as an opportunity to both set the record straight and explain why they shouldn’t believe everything they hear from friends.

Your kids don’t need to watch TV news coverage of COVID-19, either. Unfortunately, so much local and national media coverage has become sensationalized, focused on sowing fear instead of helping people understand the realities of this virus.

Finally, answer your kids questions. They look to you for guidance and protection, and when you refuse to answer or push them away, they’ll only worry more. When you answer their questions calmly and patiently, you do more than ease their current fears. You also help them be better parents when the time comes. After all, they’ll have had great role models.

If you or your kids are overwhelmed by fear about COVID-19 or other health issues, you may want to consider sitting down with one of our professional counselors. We know how to approach fears and help people address them in supportive and constructive ways. We’re here to help. And from one parent to another, it is best to surround yourself with all the support available during times like these.

April Bordeau is the Director of Care to Change. A licensed clinical social worker, she has focused on helping children and families overcome challenges in their lives for over two decades.