As the coronavirus (COVID-19) is being talked about more each day and precautions are being taken inside and outside the home, children are likely to become more anxious and have questions about what is going on. During this time, you may be unsure of what to do, what information to tell your children and how to talk to them about it.
Even if you decide not to talk about COVID-19 while your children are around, or even if your children are young toddlers and have a limited understanding of the world around them, children are able to sense the feelings of stress and tension that you may be experiencing. They are likely to be washing their hands more, being reminded to cough into their elbows and not touch their faces. They may be seeing more people outside of their home wearing masks, or empty shelves at the grocery store. As these are not common sights and experiences for them, they may be concerned that someone in their family is ill or that they may become ill.
How much information you share with your children will depend on their age. You can begin by asking them basic questions to gauge how much they are already aware of and how they are feeling currently. Ask if they may have heard family members talk about it, someone at school or maybe a friend’s parents. Let them ask you whatever questions may be on their mind.
Common questions may include:
- Will I get sick?
- Will my mom or dad get sick?
- Why is everyone wearing masks?
- Why is school/daycare closed?
- Will we have enough food?
Here is a resource you can share with your children to help them better understand what the coronavirus is and how it works, and it may also answer some of the questions they may have:
The most important thing to remember when talking to your child about the coronavirus is to keep a sense of calm and control during the conversation. If they sense that you are worried, they are more likely to become worried. Some children may have a lot of questions, but some may be fine with a simple explanation. Follow their lead and base the amount of information shared on their interest in the conversation. If you see your child becoming more nervous as the conversation continues, pause and reassure them, take your time and give your child the space to share their fears, concerns or questions. If they ask a question that you don’t have the answer to, be honest and tell them so. You can look up the answer together, this way you know where your child is getting their information and it helps them to feel involved in what is going on.
Let your child know that there is nothing wrong with being scared or nervous about all of the changes that might be happening. Explain to them that their feelings are valid and work together to find ways to ease any worries that they may be having.
Work with your child to think of preventative steps they can take to keep themselves and those around them healthy, such as:
- Coughing into their elbow or sleeve, sometimes called the ‘Vampire Cough’
- Washing their hands more frequently, give examples such as before and after meals, before touching their face and if they have been coughing and sneezing a lot.
- Using soap and warm water to wash their hands and remind them to do so for at least 20 seconds each time. Have them sing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice to help them know how long to wash their hands for, and to make it more fun for them.
Using concrete visuals like videos or step by step guides for proper handwashing and coughing techniques as well as practicing them together can help your child clearly understand ideal prevention methods. When children feel they can take steps to protect themselves and those around them, they feel empowered and are less likely to feel scared or anxious. Remind them that they are strong, eat healthy meals and practice good hygiene. These reminders may help to reassure your children that they can be proactive in staying safe.
Keep talking to them and checking in with them every few days to see how they are feeling. They may have some new questions, or their feelings may have changed from your last conversation. Let them know that it is not their job to worry about all of this and that they are not alone. Remind them that there are lots of people helping us such as doctors, nurses, friends and family members and that all of these people love and care for them very much.
On a final note, remind your children of the positive elements that can accompany these changes. Involve your children in planning new experiences that they can look forward to. Perhaps your family can initiate a special games night, a movie night, or a ‘making dinner together’ night. Create activity times in your day for whole-body movement with your children. Exercise helps to combat stress and elevate positive feelings. Inject humour and joy throughout the day. Laughter is such a positive influence! All of these steps help to build resilience within your children, empowering them to recover from stressful events in positive ways.