As news and public conversations surrounding coronavirus (COVID-19) continue to dominate headlines worldwide, children may worry about themselves, their family, and their loved ones getting ill. Many parents are wondering how to bring up the topic in a way that is honest and accurate without causing fear. Talking to children about coronavirus begins with communication that is simple, fact-based, and child-friendly. The goal is to educate, without causing anxiety, and to ensure that your child is aware of what they need to do to stay healthy.
Ask & Acknowledge Feelings
Start by asking them how they are feeling and if they are aware that anything is different. Listen to their answers and acknowledge their feelings. Younger children may not have the language skills to communicate what they feel is different; however, they may communicate that they are feeling uneasy through emotional outbursts, tantrums, or other changes in their behaviour. Offer your child a creative outlet to process their feelings, such as painting, drawing, or reading a story, and encourage them to talk about how they are feeling at any time.
Explain Change & Maintain Normality
Explain to your child why changes are occurring to their daily routine, such as not shaking hands, staying away from large crowds, and why they need to pay extra attention to personal hygiene. Changes to a child’s routine can be very disruptive when they don’t understand why changes are happening. You may want to create a simple story similar to Manuela Molina’s Coronavirus Story to explain that germs can make people sick, but that when you wash your hands, you can help everyone stay healthy. Where possible, allow your child to maintain as much normality as possible, and provide plenty of opportunities for play.
Educate in a Child-Friendly Way
If your child asks questions about coronavirus, use child-friendly language, and keep answers clear, simple and fact-based. If you don’t know the answer to a question, take this opportunity to explore the answers from reputable sources such as the Australian Government Department of Health or World Health Organisation (WHO). Children have the right to know the truth; however, it is our role as parents and educators to inform them without causing distress or panic.
Make Hygiene Fun
Show your child how good hygiene practices can help protect them from coronavirus and other illnesses. Make it fun by singing along to The Wiggles ‘Hand Washing Song’ or doing the ‘Handwashing Dance’ by Quang Đăng. Encourage your child to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ or the ‘ABC Song’ when they wash their hands to ensure they wash their hands for a sufficient period of time. It’s also a good idea to remind your child that picking their nose is a no-no and that they should try to avoid touching their face.
Encourage Health Awareness
Encourage your child to be aware of how they are feeling, and that they need to inform a trusted adult if they begin to feel unwell. Keep an eye out for symptoms such as a fever, cough, runny nose or shortness of breath. You should also encourage your child to stay away from anyone who appears unwell. Gently remind your child that if they do come into contact with someone that has contracted coronavirus, that they are unlikely to catch it, and that if they do, that most people don’t get very sick. Reassure them that lots of people are working to keep them, and our communities, safe and free from infection.
Reassure with Stories of Kindness
To further reassure your child, share stories about the kind and good things people are doing to help others during this time. Talk about the health workers who are caring for everyone who is sick, and the scientists who are working to find a vaccine. Let your child know that there are people out there who care and that they are taking action.
Manage Your Responses
Children pick up on stress and absorb your responses. It is important to look after yourself, prioritise your own health and hygiene, and to filter the media you consume. Ensure that you are seeking information from reputable sources, and that you manage your responses to news. Sensationalised ‘news’ stories about panic buying are not conducive to calm. Be mindful of your behaviour as children model our responses.
Check in with your child if you notice a change in their behaviour and encourage them to talk about anything that may be upsetting them. It’s important that they feel comfortable to share their thoughts and feelings. The same goes for adults, it is important to check in with people who make you feel comfortable and at ease, as this will help you to better manage your own stress and anxiety.
Close with Care
When you finish a conversation with your child about coronavirus, gauge their level of anxiety through their body language, follow up questions, and tone of voice. If they are showing any signs of distress, encourage them to talk further, or to do an activity together that will help put them at ease. Listen to their favourite song, read their favourite story, or do something that helps remind them that everything is ok. While their world may not be exactly normal right now; there are plenty of ways to maintain a sense of normality, and to show your child that the world is still a beautiful and amazing place.
See below for more helpful resources about how to talk to children about Coronavirus.