by Anna Marie Trotman
Parents all over the world are facing the same problems and concerns, as we are quarantined to our homes. As public conversations around coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) increase, children may worry about themselves, their family members, and friends becoming ill with COVID-19. Parents, family members, school staff, and other trusted adults can play an important role in helping children make sense of what they hear in a way that is honest, accurate, and minimizes anxiety or fear. The CDC has created guidance to help adults have conversations with children about COVID-19 and ways they can avoid getting and spreading the disease.
Find out What Your Child Knows: Ask questions geared to your child’s age level. This gives you a chance to learn how much kids know and to find out if they’re hearing the wrong information.
Follow your child’s lead: Some kids may want to spend time talking. But if your kids don’t seem interested or don’t ask a lot of questions, that’s OK.
Offer Comfort and Honesty: Focus on helping your child feel safe, but be truthful. Don’t offer more detail than your child is interested in. If the topic doesn’t come up, there’s no need to raise it unless it happens.
If your child asks about something and you don’t know the answer, say so: Use the question as a chance to find out together. Check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website for up-to-date, reliable information. That way, you have the facts and kids don’t see headlines about deaths and other scary information.
Remain calm and reassuring: Remember that children will react to both what you say and how you say it. They will pick up cues from the conversations you have with them and with others. Let them know that you are concerned but feel if everybody does their part by washing hands, and by social distancing, we will get through this.
Give kids space to share their fears: It’s natural for kids to worry, “Could I be next? Could that happen to me?” Let your child know that kids don’t seem to get as sick as adults. Let them know they can always come to you for answers or to talk about what scares them.
Know when they need guidance: Be aware of how your kids get news and information, especially older kids who go online. Point them to age-appropriate content so they don’t end up finding news shows or outlets that scare them or have incorrect information. Consider reducing the amount of screen time focused on COVID-19. Too much information on one topic can lead to anxiety, for everyone!
Help Kids Feel in Control: Give your child specific things they can do to feel in control. Teach kids that getting lots of sleep and washing their hands well and often can help them stay strong and well. Explain that regular hand washing also helps stop viruses from spreading to others. Be a good role model and let your kids see you washing your hands often!
Talk about all the things that are happening to keep people safe and healthy: Young kids might be reassured to know that hospitals and doctors are prepared to treat people who get sick. Older kids might be comforted to know that scientists are working to develop a vaccine.
Kids and teens often worry more about family and friends than themselves: For example, if kids hear that older people are more likely to be seriously ill, they might worry about their grandparents. Letting them call or Skype with older relatives can help them feel reassured about loved ones.
Let your kids know that it’s normal to feel stressed out at times: Everyone does. Recognizing these feelings and knowing that stressful times pass and life gets back to normal can help children build resilience.
Make yourself available to listen and to talk: Make time to talk. Be sure children know they can come to you when they have questions.
Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds: Follow these five steps—wet, lather (make bubbles), scrub (rub together), rinse and dry. Find a song that you can sing while washing your hands, Happy Birthday is one but there are many more songs, you can even make up a silly song. Don’t forget to wash your thumbs. (Note for adults: you can find more information about cleaning and disinfecting on CDC’s website.)
If you suspect your child may have COVID-19, call your pediatrician to let them know before you bring your child in to see them.