How to tell children about the coronavirus: advice from an expert

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Talking to kids about the coronavirus can be tricky. It is likely that they have seen and heard a lot of information from friends and the media. They may be scared, stressed, or worried. If your children are already prone to anxiety, you want to calm their fears. However, you also need to be honest and make sure they have good hygienic behavior. So how do you start the conversation?

To help you navigate this difficult subject, we have met Dr. Rebecca Berry, Ph.D., teacher at NYU Langone and an expert in the field of child and adolescent psychiatry. She gives her tips for talking to kids about the coronavirus and explains why staying positive and solution-oriented is the most important thing.

1. Have the conversation

It’s worth it to sit down and talk to your kids about Coronavirus. Dr Berry explains, “At this point it’s probably important for families to have a conversation. That being said, she adds, “I don’t want families to think this has to be a big talk.” In fact, it can really be just a quick chat – a time to listen, to hear concerns, and maybe even to filter out the myths that are being thrown and correct them with a few useful bits of information. (Think of fleas). “This is what we know, this is what we do, this is how you focus on good hygiene.”

2. Control the dialogue and don’t give too much information

As the coronavirus develops, there are daily, if not hourly, updates. However, you don’t have to share these updates with your kids. In fact, says Dr. Berry, “Sometimes kids with too many updates on things make it seem like a looming disaster is happening. »Make sure that for children, parents, rather than the media, are in control of the dialogue. Dr Berry says, “Sometimes with some kids less is more because often the media content is sensational or exaggerated or repeated in a way that causes a lot of fear in people.

She adds: “Providing too much information can be detrimental in some cases, especially when not combined with brainstorming solutions. This is why, “It is important that parents control the message and the dialogue as much as possible. So what exactly should that message be?

3. Make the message positive and solution-oriented

When you tell children about the coronavirus, make sure that the information always comes with some type of proactive action. Focus on the things the family does (like washing their hands) as well as the things the community and government do and explain how these things will keep people safe.

Dr Berry says, “Especially for young children, this proactive action and a little bit of hope will be important. Because it gives the child the feeling that he has a way to deal with uncertain times.

Still, you don’t want to offer an unrealistic level of hope. Dr Berry does not encourage saying things like “Oh, it’s okay, we’re going to be done with it in a week”. However, you don’t want to be too negative because, she says, “a child doesn’t know what to do with it.”

The most important thing is that they know that there is “some movement towards a solution both at the family, community and national level”.

4. Start the conversation at an appropriate level

Dr Berry says that when talking to children about the coronavirus, “the level of detail or honesty a parent gives their child will depend on their age, temperament, maturity and cognitive abilities. ” Dr Berry adds, “The parent or guardian should already have an idea of ​​who their children are and how much information to give them. “

In order to get the conversation started at an appropriate level, you can also start by asking children what they already know and what they have heard about the coronavirus. It would also be an opportunity to correct any misconceptions.

The level of conversation should also depend, according to Dr. Berry, “whether or not the child arrives with a pre-existing state of anxiety that might make him more likely to catastrophize what might happen.”

5. Listen and validate

Especially if your children are already prone to anxiety, Dr. Berry explains that parents should “listen to the child and his concerns” first. Most importantly, don’t dismiss these fears. Instead, Dr. Berry encourages parents to practice what she calls “validation.” She says parents should keep a “earthly and calm” voice and say something like, “Listen, I understand you hear a lot about what’s going on and I can tell you are worried about it. . “

Then refocus them on your solutions post. Say something like “[We] are here to make sure you are protected and safe and that as a family we do everything we can to stay healthy. Let us know if you want to talk more about it.

After that, it can be helpful to encourage children to refocus on their normal lives, activities and routines. This is what Dr. Berry recommends for all concerns, whether they are related to the Coronavirus, climate change, or other disasters.

6. Focus on what they can do and what others are doing to keep them safe.

Remind children that it is not their responsibility to worry about the virus. It is only their job to make sure they maintain safe hygiene practices and continue to wash their hands. According to Dr. Berry, “young children follow the rules quite well”, so it’s likely that if you tell them to wash their hands, they actually will. If you want to take it a step further, Dr. Berry explains that you can turn handwashing into a game for the youngest. Encourage them to sing Happy Birthday twice while washing their hands, then ‘make it a fun game for the younger ones, in terms of maybe seeing how loud they can sing or how much soap they can get. .

Then explain that others are also working to keep them safe. Dr Berry says, “Especially with children, we need to focus on what is being done at multiple levels (both family level, community level, even national level) to keep them safe. “Dr. Berry encourages telling children” This is what our family is doing, this is what the scientists and our country are doing. [is doing]. “

Parents should remind children that “people in important positions, like scientists, make a plan.” It is the job of these people to care, not that of the children.

Ultimately, when you talk to kids about the coronavirus, focus on solutions, again highlight what everyone is doing to prepare, and encourage them to continue with their daily lives.

For more advice on managing the coronavirus outbreak, check out our travel tips, our DIY hand sanitizer recipe, and more.

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