How To Talk To Your Child About The Coronavirus
If you’re struggling as a parent to have the coronavirus talk with your child, you’re not alone. Read on about talking to your child about this disease
By Dr Meghna Singhal • 9 min read
With news of the coronavirus spread and fatalities related to it dominating headlines, there is an increasing fear about the COVID-19 pandemic. The fast-spreading second wave is staring at us on our social media feeds; the message on the ringtone of our phones when we make a call reminds us about precautions we need to take to fight the virus; it has changed the way we work, the way we teach and learn, and the way we socialize. It has turned our whole world topsy-turvy.
In this scenario, protecting ourselves and our children has become a top priority. But equally important is addressing the anxieties of our children, the misinformation they are likely to be exposed to, and any insecurities they may be experiencing.
With the coronavirus having spread across the country (and the world) like wildfire, there is simply no way you can avoid talking to your children about it. Having these conversations sooner will also ensure that you are your child’s trusted source of information.
Here’s what you can do to inform, educate and reassure your child about the COVID-19 virus and what we can all do to take care of ourselves and stop its spread.
1. Educate yourself
Before you talk to your child about the coronavirus, it is important that you gather objective and reliable information about the virus.
First, educate yourself about the virus.
- How is the disease transmitted?
- How does it affect the infected person?
Next, find out what measures you could take to keep your family safe.
- Should we avoid stepping out of our house?
- How to ensure my children wash their hands?
- Why is it unsafe to travel?
Get your information from trustworthy sources such as the World Health Organisation website or the National Centre for Disease Control India website. Guard against scams and fake news related to the disease.
2. Keep your own emotions in check
While talking to your child about the coronavirus try not to show your anxiety, as this will only add to her concerns. When you tell your child, “You must wear a mask. If you don’t, you will get infected,” you are communicating your anxiety to your child and making it difficult for him to maintain a healthy emotional state.
3. Find out what your child already knows
Talk to your child about the coronavirus when you and your child are feeling relaxed and aren’t tired or rushed. It is a good idea to have this discussion as a series of conversations, rather than one lengthy explanation. Use a tone that is objective and straightforward.
Ask your child open-ended questions to understand what she knows and feels about the issue.
- What have you heard about the coronavirus?
- What do you know about how it spreads?
For older children, you might ask:
- What are your friends saying about the coronavirus?
- Did you read something on the Internet about it?
Let your child drive the conversation.
4. Respond to questions in an age-appropriate manner
Answer whatever questions your child may have, but don’t overwhelm him with too much information. Avoid giving more details than what he is interested in. Provide facts about what has happened, explain what is going on now, and give your child clear information about how to reduce her risk of being infected by the virus using age-appropriate words. With younger children, you can say something like this:
- The coronavirus is a virus that spreads mainly from person to person. A lot of people could get sick because of it. But the good news is that we can take precautions to prevent it from spreading. Also, scientists have recently launched vaccines for the coronavirus and many people in our country have already received their vaccination.
With older children, have open and calm conversations. Beware of where and how they get information, especially with children who are active online. Point them to reliable and age-appropriate sources of information, so they don’t end up getting exposed to news that could be incorrect or disturbing. In case you’re not able to answer a question your child asks, do your research together to find the answers.
5. Listen and reassure
Assess if your child has any fears and worries. She may wonder:
- Could I be next?
- What will happen if my parents or grandparents get it?
Understand your child’s feelings as you observe her or listen to her complaints:
- Why can’t I go to school?
- Why can’t I play with my friends?
Each child might have their own concerns and worries, depending on what they have been exposed to in school, social media, or elsewhere. If your child does express worry, don’t brush it aside by saying things like:
- Oh, really there’s nothing to worry about
- Nothing will happen to us
Instead, it is important to listen to him and acknowledge his worries:
- I know it sounds scary
- Looks like you are worried that one of us may fall sick
Next, speak in a calm a manner and reassure your child:
- You are safe with me.
- Illness due to the Covid-19 infection is generally mild, especially for children and young people.
- There will be an end to this outbreak and our life will return to normal.
Offer objective and age-appropriate information, to correct whatever (mis)information your child might have. Keep the TV news switched off to avoid unnecessary anxiety in your child.
6. Spend time with your child
Your child may be experiencing loneliness due to a lack of face-to-face contact with friends. Spend time playing with your child to prevent him from feeling isolated. Young children often express their feelings and emotions through play. By playing with your child, you can help her experience your care, relieve her anxiety, and improve her sense of safety.
For older children, particularly if they are feeling lonely due to lack of interaction with their classmates, spend time connecting as a family. Encourage your child to keep in touch with friends via phone calls or messaging online.
Brainstorm with your child and make a list of enjoyable things to do. Infuse fun into your regular household chores and get your child involved in helping around the house.
7. Help your child take charge
Give your child information that helps him feel in control. Talk about the precautions you can take as a family:
- Wash hands with soap thoroughly
- Stay home
- Sneeze/cough into our elbows
- Don’t share water bottles or utensils
- Get adequate sleep
However, it is not necessary to be hyper-vigilant and convey a sense of alarm.
The more you involve your child in planning and preparedness, the more she will feel in control. Ned Johnson, co-author of The Self-Driven Child, in an exclusive conversation with ParentCircle, says, “Doing things to increase our sense of control can be a source of future resilience.”
You can also use this opportunity to inculcate good habits in your child - habits such as washing hands with soap before meals or after playing, eating healthy and getting good sleep.
8. Keep your messages positive
Talk about all the efforts being made in your city or country to keep people safe and healthy. Reassure your child that organizations and individuals are involved in vaccinating as many people as possible and country-wide everyone is working together to look after each other. Give examples of success stories.
If your child is unable to visit their grandparent because they’re sick, or if you’re not stepping outdoors, you can explain that these decisions are a part of their social responsibility to protect others and be a good community member.
Additionally, you can help your child reach out to his grandparent:
Your grandma is making an effort to get better and she is ensuring she isn’t exposed to the virus. We can help her feel cheerful. Would you like to draw her a card? Would you like to have a video chat with her?
Reminding your child that we’re all in this together goes a long way in providing reassurance and helping your child cope with any insecurity or disappointment.
Yes, there is a real crisis out right now. But, don’t let that overwhelm you and your child with a sense of anxiety. Instead, keep your own anxiety in check and have age-appropriate conversations with your child. Be alert, aware and cautious. Keep your child and family safe and healthy.
In a Nutshell
- Have conversations with your child about the coronavirus when both of you are feeling relaxed and let your child drive the conversation
- Provide facts, explain what is going on now, and give your child clear information about how to reduce her risk of being infected by the virus in an age-appropriate manner
- If your child expresses worry, listen to him and acknowledge his worries
- Help your child take charge. The more you involve your child in planning and preparedness, the more she will feel in control
- Keep your messages positive. Use this as an opportunity to teach children about good, healthy habits
What you can do right away
- Gather objective information on the Covid-19 from reliable sources
- Brainstorm with your child on what precautions you need to take as a family
- Stay calm. Keep your own emotions in check while talking to your child about the coronavirus so you don’t make your child more anxious
About the author:
Dr. Singhal is the Manager, Global Content Solutions at ParentCircle. She has a doctorate degree in clinical psychology from NIMHANS (Bangalore) and holds a post-doctorate in parenting from the University of Queensland (Australia).
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