How we talk to children about infectious diseases might improve our response to the next pandemic.
“Wash your hands!” “Oh, don’t touch that!” “Don’t drink from your friend’s water bottle!” Parents are constantly telling their kids to avoid certain behaviors so they won’t get sick. That’s an important message — children need to learn to protect themselves. But that message, as we have learned during the coronavirus pandemic, is incomplete: It conveys only half of the lesson that we ought to be imparting. “Don’t do X because you might get sick” reinforces the idea that we only need to protect ourselves against infectious diseases. If we want to reduce the severity of future pandemics — and lesser outbreaks — we must also deliver the other half: We should be telling our kids to undertake health measures to protect other people from us.