We all manage the fear of Covid-19 in different ways and it’s the same for children, although some kids worry more than others. This may be simply due to their nature – perhaps they are generally sensitive or anxious – but for others their fears can be exacerbated by the behaviour of adults around them who are also worried but may not be dealing with the situation in a calm way.
It’s normal for children to worry that people they care about might get ill or even die from Coronavirus but parents (and other adults around them) can play an important role in making them feel safe by making sense of what they see, hear, feel and fear.
Be a role model
Kids copy everything we do, say, and even feel. When we feel anxious and stressed our kid’s brains will activate in tandem. Most kids, and particularly highly sensitive ones, detect straight away when their parents are feeling worried. So when you talk to your kids about Coronavirus try to maintain a calm ‘in control’ state where you send the message that you can handle it. Please find some pointers below to help you role model how to deal with the Covid-19 situation:
- Keep calm and carry on: children will react to what you say, do and feel. They will pick up the smallest clues from conversations they hear or from your everyday behaviour. You might think they are not listening; they may be ‘plugged in’ to earphones, in another room or talking to someone else, but kids (particularly sensitive kids) are tuned into everything that goes on with their parents. As soon as we lower our voices they sense that something interesting is coming and they tune in. So be careful not to talk negatively or air your worries about Coronavirus with your partner, friends or on the phone while your kids are around. It is not good for them to hear about the virus and situation this way.
- Reassure your children that they are safe: tell them what they need to hear and assure them that the adults around them have got things under control.
- Talk to them in a way that doesn’t make them more worried than they already are: don’t say more than they need to hear. You can start a conversation by asking about what they know already, what they think the Coronavirus is and does and how we can look after Remember to make the conversation age appropriate.
- Send a signal that you (as a family) will get through this: maybe not today or tomorrow but you will. Why not do a ‘time travelling’ game where you talk about ‘in 2 months time I would like to…’, ‘at Christmas I would like to…’, this sends a signal that there is an end in sight and that at some stage we will be able to do more of the things we did before.
How to talk to your child about the situation
- Have the conversation when you are calm and in control of yourself: if you are feeling anxious, stressed or worried then it is not the time to talk to your kids. Pick the right moment.
- Focus on what you and your child CAN control: try not to talk about death, sickness, lockdown all the time but focus on what you and your family can do to stay safe, get through it and maybe help others. It’s never nice to feel ‘helpless’ so talk about what you can all do to keep safe and help the situation: wash your hands frequently and stay away from people who are coughing, sneezing or sick. Remind them to cough or sneeze into a tissue or their elbow, then throw the tissue into the bin. Washing their hands regularly and social distancing is something everyone can do. Maybe talk about something you can do to help your community and ways you might support other people who need help, i.e. shopping, dog walking etc.
- Be available and welcome ALL questions: encourage them to talk and be curious. There are no stupid questions.
- It’s OK not to have all the answers: this is new to all of us so be comfortable saying, ‘I don’t know.’ It’s tempting to want to reassure your child that things will be better soon, even when you aren’t sure yourself. But teaching children how to tolerate uncertainty is key to reducing anxiety and helping them build resilience. Work on understanding the situation and controlling what you can and reassure them that you will keep them up to date with any changes.
- News and the media: it can really add stress to a child to hear the news so pay attention to what they hear and see on the news (radio, television, newspapers etc.). They do of course need to hear some but too much information about Covid-19 (or too often) can really make a child feel anxious.
- Create a new normality that is not all about Covid-19: try to set up new rules, routines and responsibilities, together, that fit your situation. Try to get your new everyday life to work so they sense some ‘new normality’ in their life.
Short facts that you can tell your kids about Covid-19
- Covid-19 is the short name for ‘Coronavirus disease 2019’. It is a new virus and scientists and doctors are still learning about it.
- Recently this virus has made a lot of people sick. Scientists and doctors are trying to learn more so they can help people who get sick.
- Doctors and health experts are working really hard to help people stay healthy.
- Most people who have caught the virus have had mild symptoms and recovered quickly.
Keep calm and safe
Good luck, Mette Theilmann