At every waking moment, it seems that we can’t escape hearing about Coronavirus. Every media outlet talks non-stop about COVID-19, so it’s no wonder that parents are worried about how to address this rapidly spreading contagious illness with their children.
I think it’s necessary to be careful of the language we’re using, especially with young ones. We need to strike a balance between explaining what Coronavirus is in simple terms and understanding what they need to know just to be able to make children aware of the importance of keeping healthy and safe as a family. There’s a heightened sense of anxiety when parents go into too much detail with children that’s only fueling the fire. We all know that children have incredible imaginations, and while this is a wonderful trait to have, we wouldn’t want them to go off on imaginary tangents where it leads to unnecessary levels of stress and anxiety at their age. Sometimes parents don’t realize when they do excessive talking – speaking too much about the same topic and providing too much information that is both unnecessary and which causes a great deal of alarm.
So, here’s what parents can do…
· Explain the Coronavirus in 2-3 sentences. Let children know this is a germ that makes people sick. Similar to the flu, this illness causes people to get a fever and a cough. It can make it hard for people to breathe.
· Talk about how people can catch this illness. Just like a virus that spreads from person to person (like a cold or cough), germs are spread when it goes into the air and someone is close by who can catch those germs. Germs travel very easily and this is why with this particular virus, we need to stay away from friends and people (that’s the easy way of explaining “social distancing”). We wouldn’t want to breathe in the air with those same germs that people have, and this is why staying close or touching someone who’s sick is what makes other people sick.
· We always talk about the importance of washing our hands with soap and water, just like your teachers do at school. When you sneeze or cough, you do that into your elbow or into a tissue. Then, you go to the bathroom and wash your hands so those germs from your sneezing and coughing aren’t spread into the air or onto surfaces you touch. With younger children, teaching them to count to 20 (reinforcing counting skills) or singing a song while washing (like the ABC song or Happy Birthday song) can make it fun.
· Children might ask, “why are people wearing masks?” Explaining it very simply – that masks are worn for people to not share germs. You don’t need to wear a mask, but some people prefer to wear one, especially if they’re feeling sick and don’t want to get others around them sick.
· Don’t be surprised if your kids ask this hard question, “Can someone die from Coronavirus?” This is a tough question to address, but one that’s necessary. You don’t need to elaborate, but model calmness in your voice. You can share that many people have not died from this, and that doctors are working around the clock to take care of people who are very sick. The experts are doing everything they can to prevent this virus from spreading and so that people don’t die from this illness. This is why it’s so important that we take good care of each other and to practice good hygiene and healthy behaviors like we talked about.
What kids are doing when they ask lots of questions is they’re trying to make sense of what they may not understand, but are hearing many things around them– from you, or other adults and siblings in the house, and from the news channels that you have on in your home. They may even be repetitive and continue asking the same questions to you. Do the same thing without sounding anxious. They just want that reassurance from you as their parent or guardian. Think about how terrifying it is for a young person to hear all the news reports, explicit information and terms you might be using when you’re talking to your spouse or other children who might be older.
Lastly, tell your children that you’re all doing your best as a family to keep healthy and safe, because you love them. It’s healthy to talk about feelings, address questions and not be hyper-focused on Coronavirus details that will nonetheless go over young children’s heads. Keep your reassuring, calming voice so they’re not feeling overwhelmed, scared and anxious. Add the reminder in there too that it’s important to eat healthy food to strengthen our bodies, get a good amount of rest and sleep, and exercise (which you can all do together as a family). Remember – keep the language simple and your attitude positive. Your kids can sense how you feel too.