How to Talk to Your Children About COVID-19
By Tracey Dowdy
The World Health Organization has announced that the Coronavirus (COVID-19) has been diagnosed in 114 countries, killed more than 4,000 people, and is now officially a pandemic. Even though WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged people not to be fearful because of its status as a pandemic, many parents and children have anxiety about their own health as well as the health of loved ones.
As parents, it’s important to remember that our children look to us and other adult authority figures such as teachers, coaches, and Scout leaders for guidance on how to respond to such news. These guidelines from The National Association of School Psychologists and National Association of School Nurses can help you navigate those difficult conversations, allay unnecessary fears and keep your children safe through preventive measures.
Children are constant observers, so remember that your children will react to and follow your reactions – both what you say and what you do. Allow them to share their feelings, show compassion, and remind them that you and their teachers, coaches, and other adults at their school are working to keep them safe and healthy. Unless they have compromised immune systems, even though children may still catch the virus, they’re far less likely to experience symptoms.
Be careful in your conversations not to lay blame on specific people, groups, or organizations and as always, avoid stereotyping or bullying language. It’s also a good idea to be mindful of watching or listening to the news when your children are around as the frequent reports on the virus may increase their anxiety. Remind your children that not everything they see online is real, and to always consider the source to determine whether what they read or saw is fact or fiction.
Try to maintain as much normalcy as safe and possible by sticking to your routines and keeping up with schoolwork, even if there are temporary school closures and distance learning.
Finally, remember how quickly rumors spread around the school when you were a child and how gullible you often were. Having these conversations is important because often what we imagine is far more frightening than reality. Remind them of basic precautions like washing their hands for at least 20 seconds – the length of time it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice – or use hand sanitizer if there’s no sink nearby. The virus can live on some surfaces for up to nine days, so remind them to wipe down their tablets and phones or have you do it, and avoid sharing food or drinks with their friends.
The most important thing for them to hear is that there’s no need to panic, and as always, you’re actively working to keep them safe and healthy.
Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.