As the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic began to spread, children's hospitals across the U.S. launched widespread communication initiatives spanning a variety of media channels to arm parents with updated information relating to the virus. Children's Hospital of Richmond at VCU (CHoR) in Richmond, Virginia, was no different, attempting to reach parents through videos, blog posts and social media. But the public relations and marketing team at CHoR also focused on communicating to children directly.
"It's confusing enough for adults, but we know that kids have faced a lot of changes too—changes in schedule, school being canceled and maybe being stuck at home with mom and dad while they're trying to work," says Kate Marino, senior public relations and marketing specialist at CHoR. "We wanted to explain to them what this is all about and what's going on in a way that they'll understand."
The result: "CHoR Defenders vs. COVID-19," a children's activity book with kid-friendly information on COVID-19.
Activity book a team effort, includes mental health component
To create the activity book, Marino and her team assembled a multi-disciplinary panel of experts across CHoR, including those in infectious diseases, child and adolescent psychology and child life services. The team's primary goal was to provide COVID-19 information that children of all ages could easily digest and understand.
"The key is being honest without being overwhelming or scary for them," Marino says.
Beyond its informational aspect, Marino says the activity book serves an important purpose in helping parents gauge the behavioral health impacts of the pandemic on their children. One page invites children to express their feelings through a self-portrait and offers several emojis to help them identify their mood.
"We added 'worried' as an option so that if a child drew that face it would be a signal to mom or dad that maybe they need to dig a little deeper," Marino says. She adds that CHoR has included mental health advice and resources among its COVID-19 communication efforts to help parents navigate potential behavioral health issues their children may experience due to the pandemic.
Thousands of activity books distributed—and a little laugh for adults
The activity book may be mostly fun and games for the kids, but its message has had a serious effect on the community; CHoR has logged more than 5,000 page views and 1,200 downloads since the book's online launch in late April. The hospital also printed 19,000 copies of the activity book—including several hundred copies in Spanish—which are being distributed at all CHoR locations, with lunch distributions by local public school systems, at daycares and through Feed More, a local service that provides meals to those in need.
While the primary goal of Marino and the CHoR team was to educate and inform children with fun activities, they added a twist that adults might appreciate. One of the activities is a maze with an ironic COVID-19 related goal waiting at the end—a roll of toilet paper.
"We thought parents would laugh at that," Marino says. "It's kind of like with Disney movies, where they insert a little adult humor to keep moms and dads entertained."
"CHoR Defenders vs. COVID-19" is available here for free download.