Once again, I really hope this period is not proving to be too difficult for you and your loved ones. This is the fourth blog of this series and is focused on how to talk about COVID-19 with children. My previous COVID-19 blogs titled ‘Managing Loneliness’, ‘Ways to maintain your Wellbeing’ and ‘Coping with uncertainty and other difficult thoughts and feelings’ can be found on the March 2020 blog posts: https://www.drbenjmead.co.uk/2020/03/. As always, any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me and I’ll be happy to help.
Talking about CoVID-19 with Children
I’ve received a few queries surrounding how to discuss COVID-19 with children, so I thought I’d offer some tips. I should add that many of the tips in this blog are not mine, rather they come from one of the professional bodies I’m attached to – The British Psychological Society. I’ve added a few of my own, plus some links I think could be helpful too.
Tip 1: It is good to talk
Children will have heard about Coronavirus and likely noticed changes around them – such as people wearing face masks, not being allowed out, and (crucially!) not going to school. It is important they feel comfortable talking to you about Coronavirus. As their parent you’ll likely not only be the best source of information but also the best place for reassurance for them. It’s also likely they will talk to their friends or other children. This can lead to misinformation and imaginations going wild. So having the chance to check-in with you is especially helpful.
Tip 2. Be truthful but remember your child’s age
Take an honest and accurate approach – give them factual information, but adjust the amount and detail to fit their age. For example, you might say ‘we don’t yet have a vaccination for Coronavirus, but doctors are working very hard on it’ or ‘a lot of people might get sick, but normally it is like a cold or flu and they get better’. Younger children might understand a cartoon or picture better (there’s a great cartoon book that I found here: Coronavirus cartoon.
We also recommend that adults watch news programmes and then filter this information to their child in a developmentally-appropriate way.
Tip 3. Allow children to ask questions
It is natural that children will have questions, and likely worries, about Coronavirus. Giving them the space to ask these questions and have answers is a good way to alleviate anxiety. Again, try to be honest in your responses – it is ok to say you don’t know. At the moment, there are questions we don’t have answers to about Coronavirus: you can explain this to your child and add in information about what people are doing to try to answer these questions. Maybe your child has an idea too; let them tell you or draw it.
Tip 4. Give practical guidance
Remind your child of the most important things they can do to stay healthy, such as wash their hands regularly, and remember the ‘catch it, bin it, kill it’ advice for coughs and sneezes. Help your child practice and increase their motivation for keeping going – maybe thinking of a song they want to sing while washing their hands.
Tip 5. Recognise change can be overwhelming for some children
Humans typically like a sense of control. When we don’t get it, we can get stressed. Also, when lots of changes happen at the same time it can be overwhelming. This can be more so for children, particularly if they are not able to fully understand why the changes are occurring. It’s therefore helpful to normalise this. Discuss with your child that their body may feel nervous at the moment and this is okay; these are strange times. Just let them know that you are there for them if/when they wish to talk.
Tip 6. Worries about Coronavirus may manifest in other worries or in frustration
When we’re anxious about something, it’s common to get stressed about lots of things. I know when I’m struggling with something I often get a bit frustrated with the dishwasher, for example: I’m really not a fan of emptying it! The dishwasher hasn’t done anything to deserve this, it just acts as an object towards which I express my stress. The same can occur with children. It’s possible they may start to get more concerned about being alone at night, or worried about something that used to bother them in the past. This is understandable. Just listen, reassure and try to help relax them.
It’s worth adding here that stress can manifest in both anxiety and frustration, via the fight/flight response. Therefore, just like adults, when children are stressed about something it can lead to worries about lots of things, as well as frustration and anger: that adrenalin needs to go somewhere. Again, the same ideas apply. When they’ve calmed down, give them space to talk, or at least let them know you are there if they want to chat.
Tip 7. Try to manage your own worries
Finally, children can be quite good at picking up when we’re anxious, so talk to your children about Coronavirus when you feel calm. I wrote some tips in one of my blogs last month (https://www.drbenjmead.co.uk/2020/03/) that I hope will help you if/when you are feeling anxious or worried. It can be so easy to fall into traps of ‘What if (insert your fear about the future)’, particularly at this moment in time. Trying to manage these as best we can is all we can ask of ourselves.
I hope all of this helps. As always, just pick up the phone or send me an email if you have any questions.