Parenting During the Coronavirus Outbreak: Tips on How to Talk to Kids About the Coronavirus by Eirene Heidelberger
Parents, if you want to raise level-headed and calm children, lead by example. When parents manage their own anxieties we are better parents because we have the brain space to listen and support our children. If you appear OK they will be OK.
When discussing scary information like the coronavirus, it's important to keep in mind your child's age, temperament and maturity. You want to be honest and real about life because it is not all rainbows and fairy tales and bad things happen, but, in some situations you just cannot be too real.
Children Under 5
Do not start a conversation or talk about it with your child or in front of them because they are simply, in my opinion, too young to process the information. Turn off disturbing images on the TV and social media. If your child brings it up, address it.
Children 6 to 9 Years of Age
Explain the basic facts about the virus, what is occurring and do not expose them to TV or social media. Children have short memories, so most likely it'll run right out of their minds. The more repeated and prolonged exposure to TV and media images the more anxiety it creates.
Give them a frame of reference that they can understand, drawing on their past experiences, for what the sickness might be like (a cold, sniffles, aches and tiredness).
Explain that it’s easy to catch and spread, but healthy kids and grownups aren’t likely to get it. Tell them how advanced medicine is and all the hard work going into protecting American citizens along with our great hospitals and medicines.
Your child may already be seeing individuals wearing face masks in everyday places. Don’t make a big deal out of it. If your child asks why they are, answer something like this: “They feel it’s their best way to stay healthy and every family has different strategies, that’s why we are doing a great job washing our hands.” Then, distract and move in with your conversation.
Children 10 Years and Up
Start by asking your child what she’s heard and knows about the virus. Let your child talk and listen to them and address their feelings. By talking about it they should cope better. Or, if your child is unconcerned, respect their indifference and update them as you feel necessary.
Reassure your child that most people only get a mild illness and fully recover within a few weeks. Explain that children rarely get the virus and when they do it is usually just like a cold. Describe what the main symptoms are and encourage them to let you know if they feel unwell.
More Tips for Parents
Depending on the age of your child, explain the coronavirus as simply and neutrally as possible. Journalistic principles. Short and to the point.
- Who: The coronavirus is a virus mainly affecting older people and those already sick.
- What: It causes fever, cough and trouble breathing. It can be more serious in some people, especially if they are already sick.
- When: At the end of 2019, coronavirus began to make people sick in China.
- Where: The disease began in China but now it’s spreading to other countries including the U.S.
Learn more about the coronavirus at CDC.gov.
Tips on Staying Healthy
- Encourage hand washing. Parents must stay in control of their behavior and remind themselves we were already in the middle of cold and flu season, so basic hand-washing skills should already have been utilized. This is a super basic skill that is the easiest tool to prevent coronavirus from affecting your family.
- Make hand washing a fun teaching experience. Sing the ABCs. Play Eye Spy to capture your child’s attention and fully wash her hands before she loses focus. Just 20 seconds is all it takes, then dry them with a clean towel or let them air dry. (Here's a fun hand-washing song for kids!)
- Show your child how to cough into their elbow.
- Check your hand sanitizer ingredients. It’s important to note they need to be alcohol-based and contain at least 60 percent alcohol. Hand sanitizers should be rubbed in for about 20 seconds. (Try this homemade hand sanitizer recipe.)
- Do not panic. While the outbreak is a serious public health concern, the majority of those who contract the coronavirus do not become seriously ill and only a small percentage require intensive care.
- Utilize the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website over trusting complete strangers.
Children feel safe, secure and loved when a complete plan is communicated and followed. Share your thoughts below!
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