The COVID-19 outbreak can be scary and overwhelming for anybody, but this is especially true for children.
Kids, particularly those on the younger side, may find it difficult to understand why they can’t leave the house, or why they’re not allowed to go see Nana and Pop anymore. This can cause feelings of confusion, sadness and even anger.
It can be challenging to find the right balance between scaring children with Coronavirus facts, and helping them to understand the situation at hand. But by using the tips below, you will be able to answer questions have about COVID-19 with tact, and alleviate some of their fears.
Acknowledge their questions
First and foremost, it’s important that children feel heard and that their questions aren’t silly. Be sure to listen intently, and avoid interrupting until they have finished speaking.
Then, you can tell them that their worries are normal and that you’re here to help them through it.
You can also ask them what they already know about the situation and how they are feeling about it, so you can address any concerns or misconceptions they might have.
Children often pick up on our behaviour more than we realise, and this influences their own moods and emotions. When they see a parent or other adult worrying, they may see this as their cue to worry too.
So, be sure to address your own concerns and anxieties about the situation before you sit down to talk to a child. Model calmness during your conversation and they will likely follow your lead.
Learn the facts
There is such an overload of information out there about COVID-19 that it can be difficult to separate fact from fiction.
It’s important to familiarise yourself with current information about the Coronavirus from reputable sources such as the World Health Organisation or Australian Government’s health alert.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to alarm your child with information like the most recent death toll. But it will arm you with the confidence that you know what you’re talking about.
Although it may be tempting to say whatever will put their little mind at ease, white lies or unnecessary sugar coating can do more harm than good.
With children having such easy access to the information these days, it can break trust or leave them feeling more confused if they hear contrasting information from another source.
Try to avoid saying things like “it’s no big deal” or promising that nobody they know will contract the virus, as unfortunately that’s out of your control.
Instead, be honest with them about the situation, but keep the focus on things that are within control.
For example, you could say something like “yes, there is a higher risk if the elderly catching the virus, but Nan and Pop are doing all the right things to stay safe.”
Give age-appropriate answers
It’s also important to tailor your language, based on the age of the child.
For younger children (for example, under 10) you might explain that COVID-19 is a disease caused by a new germ or bug, and that germs are organisations that are so tiny that we can’t see them, but they can make us sick if they get into our bodies.
For older children or teenagers, you may choose to delve a little deeper into the science — especially if they’ve shown an interest in it. Understanding the ‘why’ can help unveil some of the mystery around it and make it feel that little less scary.
Not quite sure how to put it all into words? Red Cross has some great examples of phrases you can use when talking to young people about COVID-19 that you can use as a starting point.
Focus on the positives
It may feel as though silver linings are few and far in between at the moment. However, there are some positives you can focus on to remind children that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
For example, it can be helpful to remind children that there have been many pandemics throughout history and that the experts know exactly what to do — it will just take some time.
You could also focus on the fact that China has already been through what we are experiencing, and are beginning to come out the other side.
If all else fails, remind them that the world will keep spinning, the sun will come up tomorrow, and that you have each other!
Help them find solutions
In such tumultuous times, it’s important to help kids regain a sense of control. Rather than focusing on the uncertainty of the situation, focus on what they can do to keep themselves and the community safe.
Teach them proper hand-washing technique and remind them to stay away from others if they do leave the home.
You can also help them play a proactive role in communicating with loved ones like grandparents.
For example, you could encourage them to schedule a weekly phone or video chat at the same time each week. Staying in regular contact with Grandma and Grandpa will also help reassure them that they are okay.
By following these simple tips, you can help your kids or grandkids navigate this uncharted territory and take a weight off their little shoulders.