Just like adults, children are exposed to constant news and warnings about the coronavirus. But unlike adults, kids may not understand exactly what the disease is and why it's affecting their lives. Experts say that it's important to have a dialogue with your children to answer their questions calmly and with reassurance that things will be OK.
Before you begin, make sure you have your facts from reliable sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, advises the Mayo Clinic. Refer to these sites if you need clarification to reply to your kids' queries.
"Try to strike a balance between answering questions well enough without fueling the flame of anxiety," said Jacqueline Sperling, a clinical psychologist who specializes in helping children and adolescents with anxiety disorders. She told Harvard Health Publishing, a division of Harvard Medical School, that parents should provide their children with just enough information to allay their fears without creating extra alarm.
Start by defining the new coronavirus. Sperling said that telling your kids it's a "kind of a germ that can make people feel sick," is an easy response. You can then elaborate by saying it makes some people sicker than others and describe the symptoms.
Talk about how the virus spreads by making an analogy to catching a cold or the flu, something kids can easily relate to. This leads into the reasons we have to take precautions such as washing hands, wearing a mask, and keeping at least 6 feet away from others so the germ doesn't infect us, Sperling said. It's also the reason for stay-at-home measures.
If your child asks if someone can die from the virus, be honest and say that most people have not died and "doctors are working really hard to keep an eye on anyone who is feeling sick."
According to the Mayo Clinic, it's important for your children to know that COVID-19 is a new illness, but that experts are working hard around the world to make sure everyone is safe.
Provide practical information. For example, demonstrate the proper way to wash the entire hand, from the thumbs to the end of the fingers. Show them how to contain coughs or sneezes by using a tissue. Give them visualizations about social distancing, such as imagining there's a bike between you and the other person, advised the Mayo Clinic experts.
Sperling said that parents should limit news exposure on the coronavirus, as the words and visuals can be frightening.
Above all, remain calm. "Even though you are concerned yourself, it is important to model calmness when talking about the virus," Sperling advised. "Children will look to you to see how afraid they should be."
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