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How to talk to your child about COVID-19
Posted 30 March 2020
No matter who you are talking to at the moment, the topic of conversation relates back to the coronavirus (COVID-19). So, even if you are not talking directly to your kids about the virus, they are probably hearing about it elsewhere.
Clinical Psychologist Tristan Duggan from Better Self Psychology says we shouldn’t be afraid to discuss the situation with children.
“Unless your child is very young, they’re likely aware that something is happening,” Tristan says. “Talking about it won’t make the situation worse. In fact, speaking with your kids about the problem can help you to understand their perspective and fears. After all, they may be concerned about different aspects of the situation than we are.”
Tristan says that often we are tempted to “solve the problem” for our children or to help them feel better by just telling them “it’ll all be OK”.
“This can lead to us minimising the situation, and can result in children feeling like they are not being listened to. Instead, validate the concern that your child is feeling. Show empathy and that you understand what they’re worried about. In some instances, a solution may not be readily available, but with greater clarity you can begin problem-solving together.”
Things you should talk about
The conversations you have with your child will depend on their level of engagement and their age. A good place to start is by asking them questions about what they already know.
“Anxiety forms as a result of uncertainty, so we’re looking to find gaps in their knowledge and address them,” Tristan says. “When children don’t have a ready answer for an unpredictable situation, they often create one for themselves, which can be unbalanced.”
To address this, try and steer the conversation towards:
- The efforts being undertaken to address the virus
Focus on positive processes or outcomes, rather than continually discussing new cases or negative events.
- The measures we can each take to help manage the spread
Talk about social distancing, washing hands properly and limiting travel. This can help to provide children with a sense of control around things they can do to help everyone stay safe.
- Ideas for adopting new behaviours and integrating the concept of coronavirus into daily lives
For example, help your kids to make up a coronavirus “air” handshake or greeting dance, a personalised song to use whilst washing their hands, or a safety game or checklist – be creative.
Things you should avoid
- Avoid providing incomplete pieces of information or information without context
The danger is in children using limited facts on which to base a wider set of fears or fictions. For example: Fact: Coronavirus is in Australia. Fear/Fiction: That means my grandparents will get sick.
- There is a danger in information overload
The news cycle is saturated at this point with updates, and an ongoing focus on it can impact your child’s mental health. Schedule regular but paced opportunities to discuss at home – it could be 10 minutes each day, or check-ins every few days. Your child’s temperament and needs will dictate the frequency.
- Avoid language that might blame others and lead to stigma
Remember that viruses can make anyone sick, regardless of a person’s race, age or ethnicity. Avoid making assumptions about who might have COVID-19.
- If you’re feeling anxious about the virus, pause for a minute and consider how your fears may be impacting your child
Regardless of how well you think you can mask or hide your anxiety, your child knows you well, and can pick up on what is going on around them, particularly in their own home. For this reason, if the current news cycle is contributing to your anxiety, then you might want to step away from it for a while for the benefit of you and your child’s mental health.