As the rates of coronavirus (COVID-19) continue to rise, schools across the country are closing in an effort to help protect children and their families.
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And with all of the disruption and talk about COVID-19, it’s bound to cause alarm, worry or confusion in some children. That’s why it’s important to have an open and honest conversation with your child about everything they might be hearing and seeing – especially if they’re seeing it on TV or hearing it from other people.
“Everyone is talking about coronavirus, it’s everywhere you look,” says Kate Eshleman, PsyD. “And if we’re seeing it so prominently, that means our kids are too and they might not understand it all – and that can be scary for them.”
Although it might not seem like a big deal, Dr. Eshleman urges parents to sit down with their children to explain COVID-19 in a way that they’ll understand. It doesn’t need to be a super in-depth conversation either, but listening to them and giving them a chance to ask questions can help children cope and better understand.
Dr. Eshleman gives these tips for having a conversation about COVID-19 with your kids:
- Ask open-ended questions. Start by asking your child what they know about coronavirus. They may have heard comments from friends or overheard an adult conversation about it, but they might not fully understand it. This can cause kids to share something that might not be true or repeat misinformation, which can lead to more confusion. Also, be sure to ask your child how they feel when they hear all the news about coronavirus. This way, you can reassure them if they express feelings of fear or worry. If your child is too young and can’t comprehend it all, it’s a good time to discuss and encourage good hygiene practices.
- Explain the truth in way that your child will understand. You’ll need to explain things slowly and carefully and use words that won’t cause panic or more confusion. If a child doesn’t understand the term “virus” or can’t comprehend “coronavirus” you might try explaining that certain germs are making people sick and that everyone wants to avoid those germs. Remember to keep it in perspective and control the level of uncertainty.
- Discuss the importance of good hygiene. If you haven’t already talked to your kids about good hand hygiene – now is the time to do it. Explain that it’s important to wash your hands, use a tissue to cover your mouth and nose when you cough and not to touch your face, especially with unclean hands. Explaining that they can help prevent catching the virus (or passing it onto their friends) by practicing good hygiene can give them a sense of control, which can ease anxiety. Realize that seeing people wearing cloth face masks in public may also be alarmingly different to children, so make sure you take the time to explain and reassure them.
- Tread carefully with media. Try to watch, listen or read coverage of COVID-19 with your child so you know what message is being portrayed and can help explain – or turn it off if the message is causing fear. Also be aware that social media is filled with news about the virus, so setting a time limit for scrolling is a good idea.
- Remind them they can always come to you with questions. Keep an open and honest relationship with your child about COVID-19. No one can predict exactly how this virus will evolve, but keeping tabs about how your child is feeling in the coming days or weeks is important. Explain that you’re always there to talk or answer any questions they have.
- Offer reassurance. Explain to your child that lots of doctors, nurses and healthcare workers are working hard to keep everyone safe and healthy. It’s important for children (and adults too!) to know and understand that people are helping each other at a time where things feel a little uncertain. Reassure your child that everything that is happening (whether it’s school closing, social distancing or being in the hospital) is to stop or help prevent people from getting sick.
“Children are intuitive and pick up on more than you think they do,” says Dr. Eshleman. “They can sense when adults are talking in whispers or being hush-hush about something. They’re also good at sensing fear or anxiety in adults, which in turn can make them feel that way too.”
Children have limited life experience, so talking to them and showing that they matter can help them understand and feel secure.