If you keep checking your phone for the latest coronavirus updates, chances are your kids have noticed. Parents should be ready to answer kids’ questions about coronavirus. If they don’t seem interested or don’t ask a lot of questions, that’s OK too. Just follow their lead. Here’s how to help kids understand the news about coronavirus.
1. Choose the Right Time to Talk
Try to avoid distractions. Is there a time each day when you check in with your child and ask how their day is going? Maybe it’s on the way to music practice or after childcare pickup. If it’s a time when you and your child can focus, use it to talk about coronavirus. But try not to have the conversation too late in the day. You don’t want your kids lying awake at night feeling afraid.
2. Find Out What Your Child Already Knows
Ask questions geared to your child’s age level. For older kids, you might ask, “Are people in school talking about coronavirus? What are they saying?” For younger children, you could say, “Have you heard grownups talking about a new sickness that’s going around?” This gives you a chance to learn how much kids know — and to find out if they’re hearing the wrong information.
Let your child guide the conversation. Be prepared for kids to ask questions, but don’t offer information before they ask. It’s better to have a series of shorter talks over time than to overwhelm your child with information.
3. Offer Comfort — and Honesty
Focus on helping your child feel safe, but be truthful. Don’t offer more detail than your child is interested in. For example, if kids ask about school closings, address their questions. But if the topic doesn’t come up, there’s no need to raise it unless it happens.
If your child asks about something and you don’t know the answer, say so. Use the question as a chance to find out together. Check www.hse.ie for up-to-date, reliable information about coronavirus. That way, you have the facts and kids don’t see headlines about deaths and other scary information.
Speak calmly and reassuringly. Explain that most people who get sick feel like they have a cold or the flu. Kids pick up on it when parents worry. So when you talk about coronavirus and the news, use a calm voice and try not to seem upset.
Give kids space to share their fears. It’s natural for kids to worry, “Could I be next? Could that happen to me?” Let your child know that kids don’t seem to get as sick as adults. Let them know they can always come to you for answers or to talk about what scares them.
Know when they need guidance. Be aware of how your kids get news and information, especially older kids who go online. Point them to age-appropriate content so they don’t end up finding news shows or outlets that scare them or have incorrect information.
4. Help Kids Feel in Control
Give your child specific things they can do to feel in control. Teach kids that getting lots of sleep and washing their hands well and often can help them stay strong and well. Explain that regular hand washing also helps stop viruses from spreading to others. Be a good role model and let your kids see you washing your hands often!
Talk about all the things that are happening to keep people safe and healthy. Young kids might be reassured to know that hospitals and doctors are prepared to treat people who get sick. Older kids might be comforted to know that scientists are working to develop a vaccine. These talks also prepare kids for changes in their normal routine if schools or childcare services close in the future.
Put news stories in context. If they ask, explain that death from the virus is still rare, despite what they might hear. For older kids, watch the news with your kids so you can filter what they hear.
Kids and teens often worry more about family and friends than themselves. For example, if kids hear that older people are more likely to be seriously ill, they might worry about their grandparents. Letting them call or Skype with older relatives can help them feel reassured about loved ones.
Let your kids know that it’s normal to feel stressed out at times. Everyone does. Recognising these feelings and knowing that stressful times pass and life gets back to normal can help children build resilience.