Discussing coronavirus with your children

With the headlines saturated with news of coronavirus (covid-19), it is inevitable that children will hear about it.

How much they will understand will depend upon their age, but even very young children may well pick up on the widespread anxiety, while older children are likely to have a more detailed awareness.

However, children of any age may find it difficult to understand the issue fully and to translate relentless news updates and playground rumours into a meaningful interpretation of how covid-19 will affect them and their loved ones.

As such, it is important that parents, guardians and anyone else involved their care is on hand to talk through the issue.

Here are six ways to help your children deal with the covid-19 pandemic:

  1. Listen

Listening is vital to creating a relationship of trust, where children know that their feelings will be taken seriously and not be dismissed as ‘silly’, for example.

Acknowledging a child’s feelings will help them to learn how to make sense of their thoughts and emotions.

  1. Be honest

Again, honesty is a crucial ingredient of trust, however it is important to be age-appropriate in what you tell a child and sensitive to their levels of anxiety.

  1. Help them keep things in proportion

Context is everything, but can be extremely difficult for adults – let alone children – to gauge and understand. You cannot assume that children will understand what a one per cent mortality rate means, or to grasp the important point that children are at relatively lower risk.

  1. Focus on other things

An excessive focus on fears can quickly spiral into a compulsive need for reassurance, so it is important to acknowledge the fears, put them in proportion with a balanced interpretation but then to focus on the things that you normally would, whether household chores or fun activities.

Even if you find that you have to self-isolate, make sure that you maintain a routine with plenty of time for play, fun and relaxation.

  1. Show them the practical steps they can take

It is important for everyone, including children, to feel that they have some degree of control over the situation, so show them how to follow the official advice of washing their hands for 20 seconds regularly through the day and to avoid touching their faces.

  1. Let them know you are there for them

Tell them that you are available and happy to talk through their concerns at any time.

More information about how to talk to children about coronavirus is available from Unicef and the World Health Organisation.