The coronavirus has just been declared a pandemic by the World Heath Organization, meaning that it is likely to spread to all countries in the world. This does not mean we give up on efforts to contain it, but rather we need to continue to support public health interventions that can limit the spread of the virus even where it is transmitting on this scale. The news and social media are constantly updating on developments pertaining to the coronavirus. The anxiety surrounding the coronavirus is high in the world right now, and this anxiety can become overwhelming to our children who are witnessing this alarming situation. No matter what age or stage it is important to connect with your children and have conversations about the coronavirus.
Here are some tips on how to manage these conversations.
- Model calmness. Where we lead – children will follow. Deal with you own anxiety first – the more grounded you are the better equipped you are to deal with your child’s anxiety. Talk time to ground yourself and use your own relaxations techniques before talking with children.
- Reassure children. Let them know that most people who get the coronavirus get better and emphasise that you and your family are fine. Let them know that you and the other adults in their lives (teachers, coaches, family, friends) are there to keep them safe.
- Be available to them and let you children ask you questions. It is natural for children to be anxious, curious and to want more information about a topic that is being discussed so much. Children are seeing how focused adults are on this topic, and they want to know more about it. Invite them to ask question and to seek clarity from you. It is important that children know you are there for them.
- Keep things age appropriate. The type of conversation you have with a teenager is different than a young child. If the child is young explain what coronavirus is – it is a germ that can make people sick like having the flu. If they are older you may have a more open conversation and use this as an opportunity to develop critical thinking.
- Pay attention to the threshold of what they can handle (no matter their age). Help them turn away from information overload. To constantly watch updates on the coronavirus will most likely increase anxiety – so there are times to turn off the TV and turn away from social media. Play a game, go for a walk, do an art project – just get away from the overwhelming mountain of information.
- Get accurate information. Some information, and accurate information, can relieve anxiety. You can even research the credible sources with your child (CDC, WHO) so they know where to get reliable information. Let them know that most people do not need masks and that we just need to follow the protocols laid out. Explain to them what pandemic is and how most countries are responding quickly and with strong public health interventions.
- Remind that protocols are in place. Let them know that in Canada we have excellent medical and safety protocols to respond to this and that everyone is doing a good job managing this.
- Take action. Let the children know what action they can take. In general, taking action makes us feel better and reduces anxiety. Let children know that they can take care of themselves by washing their hands (sing Happy Birthday twice), coughing into a tissue if they need to cough (or their shirt if they have no tissue) and keeping their hands out of their mouth, eyes or nose. Remind them this is how we avoid getting a cold or flu, but right now we just need to be more aware and follow the directions we are given regarding how to prevent the spread of this virus.
- Stay connected – physically and emotionally. Hug your kids. Be affectionate. In this time of potential disconnection, it is more important than ever that we stay connected with our family and friends. Although we can take precautions, we do not need to emotionally and physically isolate from those close to us.