News about Coronavirus and how to wash hands is everywhere but many parents are wondering how to discuss it with their children. The Parent Practice has this advice to help us communicate without causing anxiety.
A hot topic in our classes this week was, not surprisingly, Coronavirus. You would have had to be extremely isolated indeed not to have been aware of the general panic setting in as the Covid-19 virus which originated in China at the end of last year has spread around the world. As panic stockpiling of toilet paper and other basics indicates, even the adults are becoming very anxious so it’s no wonder if our children are worried about what they’re hearing.
The first thing we can do to help is to be aware of what they ARE hearing. Never assume that your children aren’t listening to your adult conversations even if they seem to be preoccupied and not bothered. If you’ve been talking about it within earshot of your children or they’ve heard radio or TV reports about it or it’s being discussed at school then you need to address it with them in a way that they can process.
The spread of this virus is something that is still unfolding and we don’t know what the scale of it will be. It will probably have some effect on the lives of ordinary families even if they do not contract the disease themselves.
As usual in the internet era there is misinformation swirling about so do make sure you get your facts from a trusted source such as government websites. At the time of writing there have been over 100,000 cases worldwide with 460 confirmed cases in the UK and 8 deaths. While this is a serious public health emergency it is worth putting it into perspective by comparing the number of cases of influenza each year (about 600 deaths a year – Oxford Vaccine Group) and the number of deaths on the road (1,794 in 2018) which we are very used to. Researchers estimate that about 1% of cases of Covid-19 result in death and those who are elderly or who have immune system issues or underlying health problems are more at risk. Very few children have died from the virus. The risk of contracting the disease is higher if you have recently travelled to China, Italy, Iran or South Korea although the number of countries at risk is increasing.
Ask the children what they know about it already and give information according to their age. The questions they ask will help you to make what you say relevant for them.
Listen to your children’s concerns.
Obviously one of our main concerns is not to make our children needlessly worried. They need to know that the adults can and will keep them safe. But it will not help any anxiety they are experiencing to dismiss their concerns. Don’t tell them not to worry.
When –if your child brings it up do respond to them there and then if at all possible. If your child has brought it up at an inconvenient moment such as when you’re dropping them off at school or at bedtime (very common, in my experience) then bear in mind that if you put off the discussion they may be carrying around their concerns so will not be able to focus at school or get to sleep. If it’s just not possible then assure them that you will talk about it as soon as you can. If they don’t raise the subject it might still be a good idea for you to introduce the subject calmly so that you can set the tone before they hear rumours elsewhere which worry them. Choose a time when things are calm and you will be uninterrupted.
How –stay calm. We know that anxiety is very contagious so it’s important that you get your own feelings in check before having a conversation with the children. This is particularly important if you know your child is of an anxious disposition. If you’re aware that you seem stressed acknowledge that and let them know that you are handling your feelings by getting proper information and by using your usual stress-busters such as going for a walk, listening to music, taking a bath or meditating. Give your children hugs and accept hugs from them too.
What to say –acknowledge their fears and don’t make false promises. If your child is worried that people they care about might die acknowledge that some people might die from the disease but that it is rare, less likely when people are healthy and that there are things people can do to protect themselves. Explain that most people who experience symptoms will get better on their own. “I can see this is really bothering you. Of course you don’t want anyone to get sick. I’m glad you care. Mummy and Daddy and Gran and Grandpa are all fit and healthy so we should be ok. Papa and Nana are old but they are generally well and they are keeping themselves at home mainly so there is less chance of picking up the virus. If any of us do get sick the doctors and nurses will take good care of us.”
Much anxiety comes about from feeling we can’t influence events so it will help to empower children as much as possible and let them know how you as a family plan to deal with things in the event that someone gets sick or if you need to be quarantined or if their school closes. Let them know that the government has put in place plans for dealing with the situation. What they can do is follow basic hygiene procedures. Revisit proper handwashing and how to catch a sneeze or wipe a runny nose properly in a tissue and throw it away. Remind them about coughing into their elbow rather than their hands.
Dispel racist views.
Although the virus originated in China this does not mean that Chinese people are at fault. Challenge any racist views you hear and encourage your children to be compassionate and respectful. Depending on their age you may want to make them aware that there are racist views circulating and let them know that in your family you don’t subscribe to these and that they are based on misinformation.
About The Parent Practice
Established in 2004, The Parent Practice draws on the latest thinking in psychology, neuroscience and psychotherapy. The team is trained in parenting and facilitation skills and has vast experience in parenting training. They work with parents and carers, schools and nurseries, corporate and business clients.
“Everyone at The Parent Practice is a parent and encounters the everyday challenges that all parents face. Our own family lives have been enriched and transformed with the parenting skills we teach, so our aim is to pass on our skills to help parents bring up children to be happy and the best they can be.”
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Photo by CDC on Unsplash