Coronavirus Outbreak: What you need tell your children

Infecting more than 82,000 people in the world, the novel coronavirus has spread to about 48 countries. Currently, more than 100 cases of the virus have been confirmed in the US. For children, it might be hard to differentiate between facts and hype. With the virus spreading at an alarming rate in so many countries, it is all over the news.

For most kids, face masks have become a familiar yet, scary site. Lockdowns, quarantines, school closures, transport stoppages, and other major disruptions are being seen everywhere, as there is a risk of your family, friends, and teachers becoming sick. Sometimes, parents would rather choose to keep their kids in dark and not scare them with the details of an incident or world events. And this happens when you, as a parent, is equally worried and unsure of what the future might hold.

Young children have a different perspective. They are young, naïve, and process the world around them in a manner that makes them all the more vulnerable. Things such as distance, time, and place don’t matter as they are too young to fathom. For example, when a child sees footage of an event repeated, they begin to believe that there is a threat around them. Unless you can successfully provide them with an explanation that makes them understand that the stories they are hearing and the pictures circulating on the internet, all of it happening far away from here.

Till then, the idea is pretty frightening for young children to understand. And if you, too, are worried, they might pick up on that, and might not bring up the topic with you.

A famous child psychiatrist, Dr. Karen Gaunson, was questioned on how to break the news of the virus to their kids, along with children’s media literacy expert, Saffron Howden. Here is what they had to say.

How to Talk to Your Children

First of all, choose a comfortable or safe space, preferably home. Give them your full attention. Make sure that you are not tired, hungry, and stressed. For children, things might seem daunting at night. So, it would be better when you have this conversation during daylight. 

  • First of all, begin by asking open questions regarding what they already know and feel about what they are hearing.

  • Show concern to them and validate their fears. Give them facts if they are confused or have any misconceptions regarding the level of risk. Also, tell them that what you are telling them is the truth and where does your information come from. 

  • Let them talk. Allow your child to lead the conversation. Some questions are going to be tough, but do not prompt them or overload them with information. It is going to take some time to wrap their heads around all of that is happening. 
  • See that you have a calm and reassuring tone. Your child might be worried or scared. He needs support from you. It is better to have these conversations early, so they know they can trust the information that comes from you. 

  • Let them know that if they see you sad, stressed, or upset, you are going to feel better soon. 

What to Tell them?

  • Focusing on the positive messages, keep your information simple and factual so they can understand and know you are telling the truth. 

  • You should reassure your child that most people only get a mild illness and will recover fully within a few weeks. Also, children rarely get sick, and when they do, it tends to be cold usually. Tell them that they should come straight to you if they feel unwell. Teach them about the symptoms. 

  • Let them know all the hard work doctors and the health industry is putting in to find ways to cure and control the virus. Tell them about the existence of good hospitals, doctors, and nurses who are working day and night for them. Everyone around the world is working together to take care and look after each other and find treatment options and vaccines. 

  • You can avail this opportunity to explore and learn about new things together. This could be a learning experience for your child. Tell them how our bodies are wired to ward off and fight against viruses. Also, talk about how viruses make them feel sick and what measures they can take to feel better. 

  • You can also draw from experiences so they can better understand how the sickness might look like and how long it will go for. When you give them a reference, they can better understand because of their experience. 

  • You can assign them roles and different jobs so they can look after themselves. This would give them a sense of control and also build resilience. 

  • Encourage involvement. Talk to your children, and find ways to involve them in the precautionary measures that you take at home. This could also help in setting new routines. Teach them about hand hygiene, how to cough, and not to touch their face, etc. 

Children are extremely sensitive, and when such things happen, they need your reassurance and support. Constantly being in touch with media keeps them informed of what is happening around the world. The best way is to restrict their access to news for a while and take it up upon yourself to educate them about the outbreak, ensuring that they remain calm and do not get scared and worried for you, and the rest of the family living somewhere else.