Talking to children about coronavirus… with two kids of my own, it’s something I’ve been struggling with myself. There’s no cheat sheet or how-to guide on how to tell your kids about a global pandemic, so how on earth do I talk to them about what’s going on in the world right now? Making sure they understand the importance of washing their hands and staying away from their grandparents, without absolutely terrifying them. Luckily, my youngest is only 18 months so is pretty much oblivious (apart from the fact that his parents are making him wash his hands a whole lot more) but Tallulah at 3 years old definitely needed to know why we’re only facetiming grandma from now on, instead of seeing her most days. Luckily, so far she’s been taking it pretty well, but I did do a lot of research before talking to her about it, so I’d thought I’d share that with you too along with some notes of my own.
Starting the conversation
We live super close to all of my little one’s grandparents and we see them all the time, so as soon as we were told to social distance, I knew I’d have to start talking to the kids about some changes that were about to happen. Firstly, I explained that we were going to be staying home a lot more (fun, more time with mummy and daddy!) and then that we wouldn’t be able to see grandma for a little while whilst keeping it simple and non-scary.
Then I asked few open-ended questions to gage where she was at, what she understood already or if there was anything she was confused or worried about. Things like ‘Do you have any questions for mummy and daddy?’ or ‘What do you know about the germs?’
Most people agree that really young kids don’t need a lot of information apart from the essentials to keep them (and others) safe so by asking them open ended question you can find out what they already know, making it easier to then ease any of their worries and explain the bits they don’t understand which leads us to the next point.
Allow children to ask questions:It is natural that children will have questions and worries about Coronavirus no matter what age they are. I made sure Tallulah knew she could ask me anything and gave her all the time she needed to ask me whatever she wanted (Coronavirus related or not!) Every now and then she’ll ask me why she can’t go see her friends, or if the germs have gone away, which I just take as another opportunity to check in on how she’s feeling about the whole thing.
Giving explanations.Okay, so this was the bit I found the hardest, kids think about the world so differently and I wanted to make sure they understood the importance of what we needed to do without scaring them or projecting my own fears onto them.
I really wanted to reassure them whilst stressing safety and found the below advice on the website of non-profit charity Child Mind Institute and an article from the Mental Health Foundation, both which outlined some tips on talking to children about Coronavirus.
Be truthful, but don't offer more details than your child is interested in. For example, if kids ask about their school or nursery closing, address their questions. But if the topic doesn't come up, you probably don’t need to talk about it just yet.
Don’t spread misinformation, especially when things as they are sound scary enough for little minds (and ours…)
If your child asks about something and you don't know the answer, say so. Use it as a chance to find out together look for up-to-date, reliable information from website like the CDC or NHS, that way, if you have slightly older kids than mine who might look for information on their own, they have the facts and don't see headlines about deaths and other scary information.
Speak calmly and reassuringly. Kids definitely pick up on it when parents worry. So, I’ve been trying to use a calm voice and try not to seem upset. It's natural for kids to be frightened (aren’t we all at least a little bit?), "Could that happen to me?" So, let your child know that kids don't seem to get as sick as adults and that they can always come to you and talk if something is scaring them.
Focus on the helpers – explain what all the amazing doctors, teachers, parents and scientists are doing to keep them safe.
Cope with their fears. If they have overheard some scary statistics from the news, or a conversation that should have been for adult ears only, they might be worried about whether their loved ones are all going to die. Answer honestly but in a child friendly way e.g. ‘No, we aren’t all going to die. Things like this have happened before and everybody is working really hard to make things safe for people.” If they’re worried about their grandparents, be honest. ‘These nasty bugs can make older people more sick than young people like me and you but that’s why we’re washing our hands and only FaceTiming grandma and grandpa.” Reassuring them, whilst giving a practical health tip.
Giving practical guidance:This is the bit we’ve been focusing on the most in my house- washing our hands!
I explained to the kids that washing their hands isn’t something we do just because there is a virus or sickness going around. This is what we need to do every day anyway, every time you eat, come in contact with someone, touch a surface, touch your face, but that right now we are going to be extra extra careful to wash all the germs and nasty bugs off of our hands to make sure we all stay healthy, safe and clean.
Also, bribes work… wash your hands for 20 seconds, get a treat! On those days where getting them to do anything for even 20 seconds is impossible, I make sure they’re using hand sanitiser at the very least.
At the end of the day, you know your kids best and how they respond to certain things. This is just some of the information I found useful and reassuring, as well as my own experiences talking to my own young children.
Sending our love to your families & stay safe,