COVID-19, a specific strain from the coronavirus family that causes mild to severe fever, cough, and difficulty breathing, has been in the headlines for weeks. The virus originated in China and cases have spread around the world quickly: in fact, it has just been declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization. Kids pay attention to the news when hot topics dominate it, and they are often curious enough to ask questions. If your children want answers, we suggest a multi-layered approach.
Prepare Yourself. Make sure you understand coronavirus yourself (read about it here), and then spend some time thinking about your reactions. It can be helpful to talk to other adults about your fears and concerns so you can appear more calm and confident when talking to your child. Decide on a couple of key points you’d like your child to take away from your conversation and focus on how you can get those ideas across in a developmentally appropriate way. This means giving them basic facts, but not focusing on scarier information or statistics that might overwhelm them. There is a lot of information floating around about coronavirus; there’s no need to present it all to your child.
Have the Conversation. Once you have gathered your thoughts, sit down with your child and start by asking them what they know or what they have heard about coronavirus already. By doing this, you’ll learn whether they have misunderstood something, or if they have incorrect information altogether. After you finish your conversation, ask them what they think about coronavirus as a way to confirm that you have been understood and that they’re in a good place mentally. Going forward, emphasize ways for family members to participate in their normal daily routine while staying safe. Washing hands often and well (with soap and water, for 20 seconds each time), avoiding face touching, using disinfecting cloths to sanitize grocery cart handles and other public surfaces, and staying home when sick are all good examples.
Keeping Life Normal. As much as you can focus on keeping life as normal as possible and continue reassuring your child. Limit how often you talk about coronavirus with other adults when your children are present because that can increase feelings of fear. Try not to respond to additional questions by telling them not to worry; instead, try to repeat the conversations you’ve had before to make them feel safe. If more people in your area test positive for the virus and normal daily life becomes more restricted (i.e. schools close down for longer periods of time, parents begin working remotely, and the need to stay isolated at home increases), keep those conversations going. If your family has to stay home, work together to come up with a “temporary normal” to provide some structure.
Dr. Nicole Dempster is a licensed pediatric psychologist at Nationwide Children's Hospital and is an assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at The Ohio State University. Dr. Dempster specializes in helping children and their families cope with chronic illness. She obtained her PhD from Kent State University.
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