How to talk to your child about coronavirus (COVID-19)
5 tips to help comfort and protect children.
Unprecedented. Uncharted territory. The biggest health challenge of the century. There has been so much said about the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and it can be easy to feel overwhelmed.
The same is true for children, who may struggle to understand, or put in context, the things they are hearing from friends, family and the media.
Uncertainty can be worrying for everyone. But there are lots that parents and those in care of children can do to support them through this tough time – helping them to better understand, cope and even make a positive contribution for others.
1. Start with Listening
A great first step is to try to find the time and space to listen to how your children are feeling.
Some children may already know lots about the issue, whereas others, especially if they are younger, may need to be gently introduced to ideas like bugs, germs and the importance of simple things like good hand hygiene.
Try to create an open and safe space where they can express themselves. Think about how you can even use drawing, stories, and other fun activities to get the dialogue going.
The most important step is to address their concerns. Acknowledge their feelings and show them that it is understandable to feel afraid sometimes and that it is the same for everyone.
For children, knowing they have got your full attention, as well as your support is a hugely powerful thing.
2. Be Honest and Explain the Truth
Children have a right to know what is happening in the world and adults have a dual responsibility of sharing truthful information and keeping children safe. This can be a tricky balance at times.
But by using language sensitive to their ages and abilities, adults can help reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.
If you know the answers to all their questions, that is no problem. Together with your children you can try to find and explore the answers.
There are tons of great sources of accurate information out there. You can check out the UNICEF and the World Health Organization websites, and you can even take this moment as an opportunity to help children understand that some information online isn’t always trustworthy and that it is best to find and listen to credible experts.
3. Help Them Protect Themselves and Make It Fun!
One of the most effective ways to keep children safe from coronavirus and other diseases is to encourage and educate them about the importance of regular handwashing.
You can also show children how to cover a cough or a sneeze into their elbow, and help them recognise and talk to you about possible symptoms, like fever, cough or are having difficulty breathing.
4. Try and Put Them at Ease
With difficult images and talk of the outbreak ever-present on TV, radio or online, it can feel like the global crisis is right on top of us.
For children, it can sometimes be hard to make the distinction between what they are seeing and what it means for them in their own day to day lives.
It can be distressing and make them feel they are in imminent danger. You can help them navigate through this by trying to keep things as normal as possible. Do what you can to keep your regular routines going and try to make time for children to switch off and find time to play and relax.
If there is a lot of talk about an outbreak in your area, remind children that they unlikely to catch the disease themselves and that most people who do have coronavirus don’t get very sick. You can also talk about everything that is being done by adults and communities to keep your family safe.
If your child does feel unwell, you can explain that it is best for them, and their friends, if they stay at home/at the hospital. Let them know that you understand just how difficult (and maybe even frightening) it is for them, but that they are getting the best care, and that by following the rules they will help keep everyone safe.
5. Close Conversations Carefully
Speaking to children about the outbreak can stir up some difficult emotions and it’s important to know how you’re leaving things at the end of the conversation.
We don’t want to leave children in a state of distress, so try and be sensitive to how they’re reacting and try to gauge how they might be feeling – keeping an eye on things like their body language and tone of voice.
Remind them that you are always there if they have any questions or want to chat a bit more. Reminding them that it is normal for them to be worried from time to time but that you are listening to them and you are there for them when they need you.