News of the coronavirus (COVID-19) is everywhere, from the front page of all the papers to the playground at school. Many parents are wondering how to bring up the epidemic in a way that will be reassuring and not make kids more worried than they already may be. Here is some advice from the experts at the Child Mind Institute.
- Don’t be afraid to discuss the coronavirus. Most children will have already heard about the virus or seen people wearing face masks, so we shouldn’t avoid talking about it. Not talking about something can actually make kids worry more. The conversation is an opportunity to convey the facts and set the emotional tone. The goal is to help children feel informed and get fact-based information.
- Be developmentally appropriate. Don’t volunteer too much information, as this may be overwhelming. Instead, try to answer the child’s questions. Do your best to answer honestly and clearly. It’s okay if you can’t answer everything; being available is what matters.
- Take your cues from the child. Invite children to tell you anything they may have heard about the coronavirus, and how they feel. Give them ample opportunity to ask questions. You want to be prepared to answer (but not prompt) questions. Your goal is to avoid encouraging frightening fantasies.
- Deal with your own anxiety. When you’re feeling most anxious or panicked, that isn’t the time to talk to kids about what’s happening with the coronavirus. If you notice that you are feeling anxious, take some time to calm down before trying to have a conversation or answer questions.
- Be reassuring. Children are very egocentric, so hearing about the coronavirus on the news may be enough to make them seriously worry that they’ll catch it. It’s helpful to reassure children about how rare the coronavirus actually is (the flu is much more common) and that kids actually seem to have milder symptoms.
- Focus on what you’re doing to stay safe. An important way to reassure kids is to emphasize the safety precautions that you are taking. Kids feel empowered when they know what to do to keep themselves safe. We know that the coronavirus is transmitted mostly by coughing and touching surfaces and washing our hands properly is one of the most effective ways of protecting ourselves from the virus. If kids ask about face masks, explain that the experts say they aren’t necessary for most people. If kids see people wearing face masks, explain that those people are being extra cautious.
- Stick to routine. “We don’t like uncertainty, so staying rooted in routines and predictability is going to be helpful right now,” advises Dr. Domingues.
- Keep talking. Tell kids that you will continue to keep them updated as you learn more. Let them know that the lines of communication are going to be open.