At this point the entire world will have heard about Coronavirus. Odds are your kids will have too. In an age of increasing anxiety levels in kids and a world wide pandemic will not ease their anxiety levels, or our own. It’s not a matter of if but when we need to have the conversation about it. We know that kids have really good imaginations and when they take a story they can turn it into something much bigger and scarier than reality.
What not to say
It’ll be grand
You’ve nothing to worry about
Don’t be silly you’ll never get the virus / I’ll never get the virus
Why not say any of that? Surely we should just be re-assuring kids?
This why we shouldn’t rely on reassurance. We are all met with front page headlines like this on a daily basis, on our news feeds on social media, on news bulletins on social media, it’s everywhere. We know know that many countries have essentially gone into shut down mode, schools have been closed, we can’t pretend this isn’t happening.
We know that face masks (despite WHO advice that they are not helpful as protection) have sold out everywhere so there is a strong possibility that our kids are going to see people in the community wearing face masks.
We need to be ready for the inevitable questions:
Daddy / Mummy why is that man wearing a face mask?
Does that mean she’s sick?
Do I need a face mask too?
What do you mean they’re all sold out and we can’t buy any, does that mean that we’ll definitely get sick?
Before we have a talk with our kids about Coronavirus the first thing we have to is have a check in with ourselves, how anxious are we about it? Can we have a conversation with our children about it without getting emotionally overwhelmed ourselves? We need to be as calm as possible when having the conversation so that we don’t inadvertently increase our kids anxiety about it. That’s not an easy task when we as adults have worries about our own health, childcare, work, our elderly more vulnerable loved ones. It’s a lot for us to process as adults so imagine how difficult it is for younger minds to try and make sense of.
We should not dismiss our kids fears about this, all that will do is invalidate them and make them more confused. When they feel anxious they will have internal bodily sensations (upset tummy, heart beating faster, tense muscles, breathing faster etc), all typical of when we feel anxious. They need to know that this is anxiety, that it makes sense that they are worried, we all are to a degree. Telling them that they’ve nothing to fear when their anxiety driven internal body alarm is screaming at them to be worried will only confuse them further. Schools, childcare, sporting events, playgrounds have been closed, they know that they world has changed, all of our lives have at the moment.
What to say / do
- Acknowledge their fear as understandable, that you’re a little worried about it too
- Tell them that it was great that they told you about their worries
- Acknowledge disappointment that events (sporting, St Patrick’s parade, concert, school etc) has to be cancelled but that it is more important that everyone tries to stay healthy and there will be other big events again in the future
- Try to keep other aspects of their normal daily routine as much as possible the same. When we get really worried about something we fear the unknown and what it might bring. The more routine there is when other aspects of life are unknown / unpredictable the more reassuring it is for kids.
- Give them something positive to do so that they can feel a little bit in control, this is where hand washing comes into play. It will give them a little sense of there being something they can do to keep themselves (& others) safe which can ease their anxiety levels
With schools closed and sports / training cancelled and most people voluntarily self-isolating we will all be spending a lot more time confined together indoors. As we all know too well this has the potential to be “challenging”. Boredom, frustration, irritation, general “cabin fever” are risk factors. Where we can we need to be compassionate with each other and with our kids. Having planned activities, board games, movie times, indoor treasure hunts will ease some of these challenges, especially if they’re planned. Ask your kids to come up with lists of things that they / we can all do together. Put them as post-its up on the fridge so when they’re inevitably say “I’M BORED” you can re-direct them to their own ideas.
Yes it is a scary thing and it is sad when people die from sickness
If one of us does get sick the Doctors will make sure we get really good help
I know your tummy feels funny and you feel like you might get sick but that doesn’t mean its the coronavirus, Mum / Dad will know what to look out for and if we need to call the Doctors
The best Doctors in the world have told us that we don’t need to be wearing face masks every day but it is really important that we wash our hands
The Doctors and Scientists are working really hard to help people who are sick and to try to develop new medicines for this new virus
We try to stop spreading sickness all the time, remember how we taught you how important it is to cough into your elbow and to wash your hands really well
If we have to spend some time at home / out of school we will plan lots of fun things / games we can do in the house
Most importantly we have good advice from our Public Health Doctors and the HSE and we should continue to monitor and follow it.