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For physician parents: helping children understand risks and reduce fears

Child washing hands

In this COVID-19 Learning Series webinar, host Dr. Jillian Horton speaks with Dr. Jared Bullard, a pediatrician and infectious disease expert from the University of Manitoba.

Dr. Bullard shares his advice on how physicians can talk about COVID-19 with their children and teens to reduce their anxiety and keep them safe.


Children of all ages are aware of COVID-19 now. The older they are, the more they realize their parents are in positions of risk. As a pediatrician and parent, can you advise us on how to talk to our kids about this?

  • Get a sense of how and where your child fits on the spectrum of understanding and go from there.
  • Find out the exact root cause of their anxiety – it might be different than you expect.
  • The fears of children with medical versus non-medical parents are a little bit different. Some are dealing with the news and conversation with their friends, but also have legitimate concerns about the risks with their parents going to work.
  • Have a real and honest conversation with your child to share what they need to know and address any questions they might have.
  • Assure them that you will do everything you can to keep your family safe. Explain how you’ll do that by walking them through the routine procedures so they understand the precautions you’re taking.
  • To ease their anxiety, be conscious of the discussions you’re having in their presence and do your best to make sure you’re as engaged as possible with them when you’re home.
  • Dr. Bullard and his wife, who is also a physician, do their best to “leave work at work”. When he gets home from work, he also makes sure to check in with his children by asking for highlights and what they could improve about their day.
  • It’s not a straightforward process ― find what works for your family and make it routine.
  • The Canadian Paediatric Society has some great resources to help.

tweetable: “It's really going to be a combination of knowing your own child and how to approach them and appreciating that the questions they have might be different than what you think they would want to know.”

What level of risk do you perceive with different childcare options right now? And how should we be asking those care providers to mitigate it?

  • Your children are your most important investment — it’s understandable that it’s difficult to trust others with them right now.
  • Finding someone you can trust is essential. Choose someone who is complying with physical distancing and hygiene requirements.
  • There are a variety of new options right now including specific daycare providers for health care workers and childcare from medical students who have volunteered to help.


Many physicians are weighing the pros and cons of self-isolating right now. Is self-isolation necessary in the absence of known exposure or illness, and what should that look like if they choose to do so?

  • As an infectious disease physician, Dr. Bullard admits he’s concerned about the risk of bringing COVID-19 home to his family. All physicians are exercising an abundance of caution.
  • Most clinicians won’t have much high-risk exposure in their day to day practice.
  • Unless you’ve been exposed or work in a high-risk setting, you shouldn’t need to isolate yourself — and your children will appreciate having you home.
  • It’s good to have a plan in place ― in case you do get sick ― that will ensure you still have (virtual) contact with your family while you self-isolate.

tweetable: “We've come up with a plan so that one of us stays in the bedroom the entire time and the other provides any support they can, and at the same time, making sure that we don't ignore our children by using FaceTime.”

We talk a lot about the apex of the COVID-19 curve. But what about the coping curve? When do kids begin to settle into this?

  • Kids are incredibly adaptable but need a routine so they can thrive, no matter their age.
  • Get them involved in building a schedule that includes fairly consistent wake up, schoolwork, play and family times. They’ll know what to expect and what to look forward to.
  • The more invested they are, the more likely they are to follow through — and they will feel like they have more control in the process.

tweetable: “One of the things that drew me to pediatrics was that children are so incredibly adaptable, and they become used to change so much faster than we do. And it's admirable ― I wish I were more like them.”

This material is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice. The opinions stated by the authors are made in a personal capacity and do not necessarily reflect those of the Canadian Medical Association and its subsidiaries including Joule.  Feel passionate about this topic? Please connect with us at

About the author(s)

CMA Joule supports physicians and medical learners in the pursuit of clinical excellence. As a subsidiary of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA), we support the profession with continuing education and other learning opportunities as well as leading evidence-based clinical products and research.