Many parents can find themselves wondering how to talk to their children about the sudden changes in their lifestyles as a result of the current pandemic issues without scaring them or causing them undue stress.
Do you explain every detail to them and make them fully aware of what is happening around them, tell them just the part that affects them, or give them a vague explanation?
Dr. Ellen Kumler, a pediatrician with Southeastern Ohio Regional Medical Center, believes parents should, in general, talk to their children about COVID-19 (coronavirus) in the same manner they would about anything else.
"See what kind of questions they have and answer the questions that they are asking," Kumler said. "They may not want to know the indepth information that you know. They are just wondering are we going to be OK, can i talk to my friends or I haven't seen ‘Suzy’ in a week and I’m wondering about her and I’m concerned about her. So maybe all she needs is a simple discussion and to call Suzy."
Kumler advises limiting a child’s exposure to media, letting them guide the conversation and answer any questions they have at their level of understanding.
"Ideally, they wouldn't hear that. If they happen to hear something, then talk about it," Kumler said. "But they don’t need to have that indepth information unless they are much older. A lot of times on the news programs it will be sensationalized and it will be dramatic and they are talking about some kind of worst-case scenario and they can be very frightening for a child."
Alicia Amato, clinical social worker/therapist with People to People, suggests parents look at the message they are sending to their children and whether they are explaining to them what is going on, what is being done and why it’s important or just telling them this is how it is and not giving any other insight, just this is how it’s going to be.
"Focus on some of the positives of what can go on with this," Amato said. "Focus on some of the other things that kids should be getting back to. They can they go outside, or play with their animals. Focus on things they can do without having to be around other people. Go back to being a family, playing games, doing activities outside, taking the dog for a walk, having meals together and not stressing out or complaining about everything."
Amato also suggests that sometimes just being open and telling a child that there is something going on that we don’t know a lot about making people sick. She suggests simply having a discussion with them about washing hands and taking care of them and focus on the positives.
"This is completely new. It’s come out of nowhere, so instead of inducing panic if we can talk about it normally and just explain that we need to take care of ourselves, we can just enjoy doing the things we enjoy doing right now," Amato said. "Take care of yourself physically and mentally and we will get through this."
The American Academy of Pediatrics provides the following tips:
• Simple reassurance. Remind children that researchers and doctors are learning as much as they can, as quickly as they can, about the virus and are taking steps to keep everyone safe.
• Give them control. It's also a great time to remind your children of what they can do to help – washing their hands often, coughing into a tissue or their sleeves, and getting enough sleep.
• Affirm their feelings and let them direct the conversation. Encourage them to ask questions and and share facts in a way they can understand. They will ask for as much detail as they need at that time. You don’t have to give more.
• Watch for signs of anxiety. Children may not have the words to express their worry, but you may see signs of it. They may get cranky, be more clingy, have trouble sleeping, or seem distracted. Keep the reassurance going and try to stick to your normal routines.
• Monitor their media. Keep young children away from frightening images they may see on TV, social media, computers, etc. For older children, talk together about what they are hearing on the news and correct any misinformation or rumors you may hear.
• Be a good role model. COVID-19 doesn't discriminate, and neither should we. While COVID-19 started in Wuhan, China, it doesn't mean that having Asian ancestry — or any other ancestry — makes someone more susceptible to the virus or more contagious. Stigma and discrimination hurt everyone by creating fear or anger towards others. When you show empathy and support to those who are ill, your children will, too.