Madison Hummel - 3/13/20
As news of the coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to dominate the news cycle even on a day-to-day conversation, it’s important to acknowledge adults aren’t always the only ones hearing the drumbeat. Children are becoming more aware of the coronavirus and its potential impact on the health and wellness of not only themselves but those around them. Fear, anxiety and uncertainty surrounding the virus are often heightened by misinformation, and it can be difficult for children to separate the noise from the facts while not getting overwhelmed by the sensationalism that often accompanies events like the COVID-19 outbreak.
If a child isn’t worried about themselves getting sick, they may be worried about a loved one such as a grandparent or relative who they have now learned may be more susceptible to the virus. One parent reported their daughter was losing sleep over worry that her grandma may catch the coronavirus and not have the ability to recover. When a child comes to you with concern or fear about COVID-19, what is the best way to address the situation while remaining truthful without instilling more fear.
It’s important for adults and parents to talk about COVID-19 to their children in a way that is reassuring, informative and does not stimulate an already worried mind. It’s important to remain calm, as children often feed off their parents’ fear or worry. Allow them to ask questions and voice their concerns in a way that makes them feel their apprehensions are heard and validated. The reality is there is a lot of uncertainty of how COVID-19 will affect our communities, leaving a lot of people feeling a sense of helplessness. However, we can control taking the proper precautions, following guidelines from healthcare officials and remaining informed and calm. Teaching children these instructions can help ease fears and give them a sense of control.
There is an excellent parent resource available from The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) and National Association of School Nurses (NASN) to guide you. You can download the PDF from their website, and the guidance has been summarized below:
Check out some of these other tips to keep in mind when addressing COVID-19 with your child:
Be ready and willing to talk: It’s important parents make themselves available when a child or young adult is sharing their questions or concerns about the virus. In times of stress or uncertainty, kids may need a little more attention from adults, so be intentional in not brushing off their worries. Talk to them in a way they will understand while prioritizing facts and actionable items such as the importance of washing your hands and not touching your face. Ensuring your child knows you they have someone to openly talk to can help ease anxieties and burden.
Remain honest and factual: While we don’t want to further scare our children, it’s crucial to remain truthful when addressing this ongoing situation. Be honest about the uncertainty of the situation but follow up with some concrete affirmations. There are plenty of reliable resources we can turn to in order to separate facts from fiction, and it’s important to rely on healthcare authorities for the most accurate, fact-based information. Stick to the facts when talking with your child, such as how the disease is spread and how they can protect themselves from becoming sick.
Monitor TV and social media use: Try to avoid watching news or television that is alarming or upsetting when your child is present. When surrounded by fear and sensationalism, children often imagine things to be much worse than they truly are. Constantly watching, reading or discussing the virus around your child may only boost anxieties and heighten often unrealistic fears. Try your best to keep the TV watching and news intake around your kids to a minimum. Do what you can to best maintain your family’s routine, as this can instill a sense of normalcy for your child.
As COVID-19 continues to quickly unfold, be sure to remain informed and up-to-date. When discussing with your child, ensure above all else they know they are loved and there are people working around the clock to keep our community safe. Lead by example: wash your hands regularly, avoid touching your face or public amenities such as handrails, and most importantly, remain calm and stick to the facts.