What I Told My 9-Year-Old About Coronavirus

The virus will have a lasting impact on our children’s sense of safety

Jessica Valenti
Published in
3 min readMar 16, 2020
Photo: Tetra Images/Getty Images

“I“I heard 20% of kids are going to die of coronavirus,” my nine-year-old daughter told me matter-of-factly last week. She’d heard that rumor from another classmate, the day before her Brooklyn school was shut down. I explained to her that no, children would not be dying of this virus — that, in fact, kids seemed to be the safest of all of us. It was just that things would be different for a while—like her school closing—out of an abundance of caution. “Okay,” she replied, “I thought that sounded wrong.” Then she got back to asking about playing Minecraft.

I’m glad that Layla seemed reassured, but it was a reminder that as adults are panicking, our children are listening. Closely.

I’ve seen lots of advice about how to entertain and teach children in the event of long school closures — how we’re supposed to keep to a schedule and maintain normalcy and boundaries. But I haven’t heard any advice on how to explain — to children who are old enough to understand that something is very wrong — what exactly is happening to the world right now. Especially when we know so little ourselves.

As adults are panicking, our children are listening. Closely.

I can reassure my daughter that she likely won’t get ill because coronavirus is most dangerous for elderly and sick people, but that doesn’t make her feel any better about her grandparents. I can tell her that by washing our hands and walking instead of taking the subway we’re avoiding germs, but she can tell that the virus must be pretty serious for us to be taking extra measures like this. “We don’t walk to school to not get the flu,” she said.

She sees the lines at the grocery stores. She notices the people in masks and rubber gloves as we walk around Brooklyn. She even knows I bought a mask for her; one in a flower print that can be readjusted for small faces.

I’ve told her as close to the truth as I can: That lots of people are getting sick, and though she’s not in danger, lots of other people are, and we’re nervous that there won’t be enough doctors or rooms in the…



Jessica Valenti
Writer for

Feminist author & columnist. Native NYer, pasta enthusiast.