Image by NIAD
by Liat Hughes Joshi
Coronavirus looks likely to have an increasing impact on our lives in the coming weeks and months. There’s no escaping the fact that our kids are going to hear a lot about Covid-19.
How can you talk about corona virus with your children? And manage any fears and misconceptions they might have?
Coronavirus and children – having the chat
1.Work out what they already know.
You might wish you could shelter your child from the worries of the world, but that’s really not possible past the baby and toddler stage.
You can switch off the news when they’re around at home, but they’ll hear about this at nursery or school – it’s such a big story and talking point that it is inevitable.
Even if your child hasn’t mentioned Coronavirus yet, you’re still better off raising the subject with them, pro-actively managing what they know and supporting them in how they feel about it.
2. Check for misinformation.
Primary school playgrounds have long been a breeding ground for alarming scare stories. Sometimes these are truly believed by the narrator, others are purposefully made up to terrify other children.
Talk together about what your son or daughter has heard about the virus and its impact and gently correct any misinformation.
Older children and teens will be seeing Covid-19 stories on social media and online news, not all of which will be accurate. This is a good opportunity to teach or remind them about sticking to reputable news media or sites like the NHS coronavirus pages, and not necessarily believing everything they see online.
First News and BBC Newsround are reliable news sources when it comes to coronavirus and children. They present stories in a way that’s both accessible and balanced for kids and preteens.
3. Identify specific worries.
Ask your child what they are worried about and help them to articulate it if they don’t know.
Although do be led by them, so that you are not suggesting problems that they might not have considered.
Children don’t always have concerns about the same things we adults do. Keep their trust by taking their worries seriously and addressing them, whatever they are, and no matter how trivial or even silly they might seem to grown-up ears.
It could be they are more worried about missing out on things they were looking forward to than the illness, such as a birthday party or holiday being cancelled.
To address your child’s worries about Coronavirus and children in schools, read the government’s advice here.
4. Provide realistic reassurance.
When it comes to the disease itself, it seems that children are the least affected. Some children who have been infected appear to not even get any symptoms. Reassure them that you have medicines in the house that they could take and that they will be well looked after, even if they do get Covid-19.
Should your child suffer from a health condition that might make them more at risk, talk them through whatever advice and action plan you have in mind, such as starting to limit social contact if there are lots of cases in your community. Remember though that so far not a single child under 10 has died of Covid-19, and the number of fatalities for 10 to 19 year-olds is minuscule.
Your child might however still worry about the potential impact for older relatives or someone they know with an underlying health issue. Be honest about that – perhaps explain what steps the friend or relative concerned might take to help protect themselves, if needed, such as staying at home more.
Tempting though it is, don’t lie and promise that people will definitely be okay. Reassure them that whatever does happen, you’ll help them through and tackle it together.
When it comes to potential disruption to daily life, such as school closures, highlight what will stay the same and any upsides you can think of. Perhaps being off school would mean relaxing some of your usual rules on screen time limits for example…!
5. Create an action plan.
Including your child in a plan of action can help them feel less helpless.
It’s best to focus your child’s attention on things they can control rather than those they cannot, such as effective hand washing. You could have a trial run of more thorough hand washing techniques together and perhaps invent your own fun song of around 20 seconds as an alternative to the prevailing ‘sing happy birthday twice through’ advice.
Depending on their age, provide them with a hand sanitiser for their school bag and advise them to try to avoid touching their mouth, nose or eyes when possible if they haven’t cleaned their hands first.
Beyond this, you could involve your child in planning a list of foods you could get in in case you need to isolate at home, or fun ideas for activities you could do, from board games or a family book club, to a film and popcorn afternoon.
6. Keep talking.
This is an evolving situation and your child’s questions and concerns might change in the coming days or weeks. Check in now and again about their worries and views, but try not to let it take over conversations too much. A sense of normalcy is necessary in challenging times.
7. Be a united front.
If you are calm and explaining things in one way and your spouse or partner in another, it can create more confusion for your children, not less. Take the time to also constantly check in with your partner on how you are handing this challenging time.
Free Covid-19 Downloadable Resources for Kids
Is your child’s anxiety out of control and not sure how to cope? We provide child psychologists in central London locations. Not in the city? Use our booking site to find UK-wide therapists for children and adults, or an online therapist if it seems prudent to stay home or you need to chat to someone yourself and your time is limited.
Still have a question about coronavirus and children? Or want to share your tip? Use the comment box below. All comments moderated.
photo by Andrew Crowley
Liat Hughes Joshi is a London-based journalist, author and commentator. She has written five parenting books including “How to Unplug Your Child” (Summersdale). Find her at @liathughesjoshi on Twitter and Instagram.