How to tell the kids? Parental crisis communication during the COVID-19 pandemic




crisis communication, risk communication, parental communication, children’s media, COVID-19


Crisis communication in a pandemic is challenging for parents, who have to explain risks and prevention measures to their children without transferring their own worries. Studies about crises indicate, that inappropriate crisis communication with children can ignite fears, worries, and even trauma among them. Recommended parental communication strategies in such situations are: (1) to consider developmental level to ensure comprehensibility; (2) to address age-related concerns; and (3) to use naturally occurring situations to talk about the crisis. However, the application of such strategies during a world-wide crisis is not known yet. Thus, we analyzed how parents explained their children the COVID-19 pandemic, which media they used, and which situations they employed. Following a mixed-method approach, semi-structured interviews (n = 55) and an online survey (n = 146) were conducted with parents in Germany. We identified three types of parental crisis communication (use of children-specific media, co-use of adult media, personal talk), found differences due to the developmental stage of the children, and recognized how parents used daily life activities for crisis talk. In sum, parents mostly employed forms of crisis communication recommended by experts, although they were sometimes hindered by the high burdens of their own emotional and organizational challenges.




How to Cite

Reifegerste, D., Wilhelm, C., & Riesmeyer, C. (2022). How to tell the kids? Parental crisis communication during the COVID-19 pandemic. Studies in Communication Sciences, 22(1), 223–231.



DACH 21 Special Issue