Small children sometimes live in their imagination more than they do the “real” world that adults inhabit. Of course, the “real” world often poses problems and concerns that children are not yet equipped to deal with — whether it be natural disaster, political strife, or mass tragedy.
Events like the recent outbreak of the Coronavirus can confuse, worry, and stress children to a degree that causes them far more harm than good. Young children should be spared details about infection rates and death tolls, which can needlessly terrify when they are ill equipped to process the information in the way that adults are able to.
Young children do, however, need some basic information about what they’re hearing, or overhearing — from the news, friends, even their parents — especially when the adults in their lives appear stressed or nervous.
Talking to Your Children About Coronavirus
As parents, protecting your children is your priority, but it’s important to safeguard them without scaring or causing them additional worry. If you’re feeling uneasy yourself, we have further resources for you to protect your mental health during this uncertain time.
But, if you’re a parent, here are some best practices for talking to your children about the coronavirus:
- Keep it simple. It’s best to give a clear, basic overview of the health crisis in simple terms. Keep children informed, without piling on reasons to be stressed or uneasy and explain that, while this virus strain is new, it’s not terribly different than seasonal flu outbreaks that they may be more familiar with. Also, children appear to be at generally low risk of infection and often present mild symptoms. They can, however, be carriers and spread the disease to more vulnerable populations.
- Emphasize children’s safety. It’s not their job to worry. Let children know that adults are working hard to keep them safe and healthy. You can tell them that the best thing they can do is to simply wash their hands! Giving children simple, yet effective activities, empowers them with a sense of control over the situation — and is also truly one of the most effective ways to combat infection!
- Limit exposure to news coverage. Keep kids away from the repetitive hyperbolic news cycle as well as worried adult conversation. Kids pick up on nervous energy. You want them to hear your words and not feel your worry. Minimize conversations where you express your own stress and worry when they might overhear.
- Routine. Keep children engaged in their normal routines. Keeping things as normal as possible — even in the event of possible school closures — helps mitigate stress and unnecessary fear. While some disruption may be inevitable, try to keep them focused on normal daily life.
- Model good hygiene. Lead by example and encourage kids to take part in healthy practices with the entire family. Four easy ways to instill healthy practices in your children include: emphasizing that everyone washes their hands for the entire duration of the alphabet song teaching them to sneeze into their elbows, avoiding touching their face, and insisting the family wash their hands before touching food.
- Take good care of yourself. You can’t keep your family healthy unless you yourself are healthy. Practice the healthy habits listed above and maintain your own best health habits. Engage in normal self-care routines to keep you energized and your immune response strong. And if you’re experiencing anxiety around the Coronavirus outbreak, check out these tips.
Have older children or teens?
While older children might be more able to deal with the intricacies of the outbreak, the uncertainty of the situation can still weigh on them.
Let your older children know that you’re getting information from reputable sources. Explain to them that they should be mindful of false information on the internet. If they begin to feel stress and overwhelming anxiety, encourage them to speak with a guidance counselor or licensed therapist.
While children are often savvier than we imagine, there’s no reason to worry them needlessly, whether through exposure to a hysterical news cycle or overheard adult conversation. It’s important to keep children and yourself safe, but also important to keep them from unnecessary stress. For a visual representation of much of what we’ve covered, check out this kid friendly comic from NPR.
And remember, during times of outbreak, telehealth, and online therapy can help to limit exposure to the virus and help you manage your anxiety about the outbreak.