Teach children to protect themselves from


Protecting your child begins with educating yourself about coronavirus 2019 and avoiding the misconceptions doing the rounds about this disease. Speak to your children calmly about it and most importantly, teach them the preventive habits that protect them from acquiring illness.

Children have probably already heard the words "coronavirus" and "COVID-19" at home, in their social circles, and in their school environment. It’s also likely that their understanding of these words may be limited or they might not understand them at all.

Keep your child’s age in mind when you decide how to go about explaining COVID-19 to them. You don’t want to confuse or frighten them, but still make sure they understand the virus, how to keep safe, and take the information seriously enough.

A good starting point in explaining it all to them could be to break down the name of the disease into more understandable chunks, similarly to how we first learn to spell and understand words.

Depending on your child’s age, you could breakdown the official name of the infection:

  • ‘CO’ for ‘corona’ (for the shape of the virus)
  • ‘VI’ for ‘virus’
  • ‘D’ for the ‘disease’ that the virus causes
  • ‘19’ for the year scientists first identified the disease.

Parents must be aware of how COVID-19 is transmitted and the possible signs and symptoms relating to the disease. Parents must make sure that every child understands the importance of practicing good hygiene habits and the preventive measures that keep them healthy.

Washing hands is a vital preventive measure, and 20 seconds is the ‘magic number’ you should encourage your children to get into the habit of remembering.

You can teach your children to wash their hands in simple steps:

  1. Wet your hands with clean running water.
  2. Apply enough soap to cover your hands. To save water, close the tap when your hands are wet and soapy.
  3. Work the soap into both hands, scrubbing the entire hand, including the back of your hands, under the fingernails and between each finger. It’s important to do this for at least 20 seconds.
  4. To make counting to 20 more interesting for young children, you can encourage them to sing a song. One option is to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice, ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ once or any other short song. This can hold their attention and make sure they wash their hands properly
  5. Turn the tap back on and rinse your hands thoroughly with running water.
  6. Dry your hands thoroughly with a clean cloth or towel. Otherwise, use a single–use towel and throw it away.

If clean water and soap are not available, use an alcohol–based sanitiser. It’s best to purchase products that have at least 60% alcohol content.

“It’s as important for children to go through the whole washing process as it is to understand the reasons behind it,” adds Dr Nematswerani. “Children must understand that this is an important habit to adopt in order to minimise their risk of getting sick.”

Children and adults alike must wash their hands often, especially:

  • Before eating
  • If hands are visibly dirty
  • After going to the bathroom (using a toilet)
  • After blowing their nose
  • After sneezing or coughing

Other preventive measures to help protect your children include:

  • Coughing or sneezing into a tissue or the bend of your elbow. Throw away the tissue at once.
  • Washing your hands immediately after throwing away the used tissue
  • Don’t rub or touch your mouth, nose or eyes with unwashed hands.
  • Avoiding people who are sick (coughing and sneezing)

Parents can take care to:

  • Keep children home if they show signs of illness.
  • Make sure that all surfaces and frequently touched objects in the home are kept clean with disinfectant (a wipe or spray works well).
  • Make sure all toys are disinfected and washed including washable plush toys as appropriate in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Ensure that all utensils such as cups, glasses, plates and clothes are thoroughly washed in soap and warm water before use.
  • Make sure your children are fully up to date with all necessary vaccinations, including having the 2019 flu shot.

Remember that people who have chronic illnesses and the elderly (especially if they have chronic conditions) are more susceptible to infections. So, if your child acquires COVID-19, any elderly or ill person who they live with or interact with are more vulnerable to contracting the infection and are also at risk of becoming more severely ill as a result.

For more information on coronaviruses:

  • Read the WHO’s Q&A on coronaviruses here.
  • Read the NICD’s Q&A on coronaviruses here.

For more information and support:

All medical information found on this website including content, graphics and images, is for educational and informational objectives only. Discovery Health publishes this content to help to protect and empower all South Africans by promoting a better understanding of COVID-19.

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