How to Talk to Your Child About Coronavirus

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Coronavirus is creating a panic everywhere. Offices, colleges schools are all shut down in efforts to protect the children and their families.

Everywhere you go, all you hear about is COVID-19. The internet, social media, NEWS channels - everybody is just talking about the coronavirus, and this is something that could alarm and confuse children. Therefore, it is important to have an honest conversation with your kids about it. It’ll help them get some clarity.

Dr Anjul Dayal, states, “Everyone is talking about coronavirus, it’s everywhere you look, and if we’re seeing it so prominently, that means our kids are too and they might not understand it all – and that can be scary for them.”

It’s scary for adults, imagine how the kids are being affected by it - by everything that they are seeing or hearing around them. Hence, it is necessary that you sit down with your children and educate them about COVID-19 in a way that they can understand and process. It doesn’t have to be a complete in-depth, scientific kind of an explanation; it can be basic and informative. Talk to them, listen to them and allow them to ask questions, it will help them understand better.

Dr Dayal suggests the following tips on how to have a conversation with your kids about COVID-19:

Ask open-ended questions: Begin the conversation by asking your kids what they know about coronavirus. They may have heard their teachers, friends or other adults talking about it, they might have seen something on the internet, or read something online that they might not fully understand. Kids not being able to understand things fully can lead them to share something that’s not true or repeat misinformation, which can create more confusion.

While you’re at it, make sure you ask your child how he or she feels when they hear all this news. If they express feelings of fear or worry, reassure them, show them your support and make them feel that they can talk about their fears whenever they want. If your child is too young to understand and comprehend all this, it’s the best time to discuss and encourage good hygiene practices.

Explain the truth in a way that your child can understand: Try to use simple vocabulary. Go slow, make sure the kid understands you and is attentive. Don’t make the conversation overwhelming; avoid using words and terms that cause panic and confusion. For example, if the word “virus” or “coronavirus” or “COVID-19” is too difficult for the child to comprehend, try explaining it by saying certain germs are making people sick and that we are trying to avoid it. Remember to keep it in perspective and control the level of uncertainty.

It can be a good idea to show them pictures of germs and how they stay on the hand and how they enter if we touch our face eyes, nose or mouth. This helps to dispel the myths in their minds and also reinforces the good hygienic practices.

Discuss the importance of good hygiene: If this is something that you hadn’t already talked to your kids about - now is the time for it. It is extremely important now that your kids practice good hygiene. Explain to them the importance of washing their hands, especially when they are back home after playing; use a tissue or a handkerchief to cover the mouth and nose while coughing and sneezing. Most importantly, explain that it can help prevent them from catching the virus (or passing it to their friends); it will give them a sense of control which can ease anxiety.

Tread carefully with media: Try reading, watching or listening to the coverage of COVID-19 with your kids, that way you’ll know what messages are being portrayed and can explain it to them if necessary. Also, social media is full of news and information, some are genuine and some misleading - set a time limit that your kid spends scrolling through social media to avoid panic and anxiety.

Keep your behavior optimal: Even if you are feeling frustrated with the lockdown or scared with the news trickling in; make sure you are not letting out this feeling or frustration in front of your child. This type of behavior creates a lot of anxiety and panic in your child. Try to keep the environment of the home cheerful and engage your child into games, reading and spending some good quality time with them.

Remind them they can always come to you with questions: Make your kids feel that they can ask you questions about the coronavirus anytime. Maintain an open and honest relationship with your child about COVID-19. You cannot predict how the virus will evolve or affect you and your family, but you can keep tab on how your child is feeling, and it is quite important.

Offer reassurance: Explain your child that a lot of doctors, scientists and other healthcare professionals are working hard to keep everyone safe. It is also important for everyone of us, along with the children to understand that we need to help each other and cooperate with the officials and the government. Reassure your child that the measures taken by government like shutting down of schools, the social distancing, etc is to stop or help prevent people from getting sick.

Even if there is a person taken sick around you, assure the child that there is treatment available and reassure that that person will become well. Make them aware about the home quarantine.

“Children are intuitive and pick up on more than you think they do,” says Dr Dayal. “They can sense when adults are talking in whispers or being hush-hush about something. They’re also good at sensing fear or anxiety in adults, which in turn can make them feel that way too.”

Always reassure your child that they can come back and ask any doubts or questions. Never rebuff their queries and be patient and keep your body language so as to instill confidence in your child to keep the communication channel open. Children may be scared but may not be able to express it right, so talking to them and showing that they matter can help them understand and feel secure. Help your child get through this.

Dr Anjul Dayal
Senior Consultant Paediatric Intensivist

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the author. They do not reflect the opinions or views of the organization.

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