How to talk to your children about COVID-19 (corona)
Strategies to build resilience and have reassuring conversations
News about the coronavirus (COVID-19) is everywhere and it can be easy to feel overwhelmed by everything that is happening right now. With the current flood of information children might find it difficult to understand what they are seeing online, on tv or hearing from other people. The uncertainty can bring about fear and worry. Talking to your children about coronavirus can help them understand and cope.
By Elzemiek Chell, school psychologist. This blogpost was written in consultation with the following resources: RIVM, International School Counselor Association and Unicef
But how do you talk to your kids in a way that brings reassurance and doesn’t increase worry? Here are some strategies to help build resilience and have reassuring conversations:
- Check in with yourself first. Even the bravest of hearts beat right up against their edges sometimes and with all the media coverage reporting on deaths from the coronavirus, it’s very common for people of all ages to experience fear and worry. Remember our children are looking towards us for reassurance and cues on how to react and respond. Therefore, check in with your own feelings first. If you notice that you are feeling anxious take some time to calm down before trying to have a conversation or answer your child’s questions.
- Stick to the facts and check-in on what your child is thinking. Having a thoughtful conversation with your child about the coronavirus can be reassuring and distil anxiety, worry or fear. Your goal is to help your child feel informed and get information based on facts. Invite your child to tell you what they know and let them express their feelings. Give them space to ask their questions. Do your best to answer your child’s questions honestly and clearly. It’s okay if you can’t answer everything; being available to your child is what matters and you can always find the answers to additional questions.
- Consider your child’s age and emotions to determine how to frame your conversations to ensure your child understands. Your goal is to avoid encouraging frightening fantasies. Ask open questions and follow your child’s lead. If they do not seem interested, you don’t have to push. Don’t volunteer too much information in one go, as this may be overwhelming.
- Be reassuring and eliminate stigma. Hearing about the coronavirus on the news can be enough to make our children seriously worry that they’ll catch it. It’s helpful to reassure your child about how rare the coronavirus is and that kids seem to have milder symptoms. Communicate that if someone has a fever or cough it does not mean this person has the coronavirus and explain that death from the virus is still rare, despite what they might hear. Let them know that The Netherlands and all other countries are doing everything they can. Let your child know that you are up to date on current information. It can also be comforting to be reminded that doctors around the world are looking for ways to address the coronavirus and highlight positive news as well. Be aware of how the coronavirus is explained to your children to avoid any person/group being blamed.
Focus on what you’re doing to stay safe and healthy
An important way to reassure kids is to emphasize the safety precautions that you are taking, and they can take themselves:
- Talk about all the things happening to keep people safe and healthy. Closing the school is part of this, but some kids are also reassured to know that hospitals and doctors are well prepared to treat and help people. Older kids might like to know that scientists are working on a vaccin.
- Give your child specific things they can do. Remind kids that taking care of themselves by washing their hands with soap for and water for 20 seconds or the length of two “happy birthday songs”), when they come in from outside play, before they eat, and after blowing their nose, coughing, sneezing or using the bathroom.
Boost your coping strategies
Not being able to go to school is a big change to normal daily routine. This change in itself can create some levels of worry or anxiety. It is important to use positive coping strategies to manage those emotions:
- Stick to routine. Make sure you are taking care of the basics just like you would during half term or the summer break. Structured days with regular mealtimes and bedtimes are an essential part of keeping kids (and adults!) happy and healthy. Starting and ending the day with a relaxing exercise or mindfulness routine can help as well and is a clear start and end to the online school day.
- Let your kids know that feeling stressed at times is perfectly normal. We all do. Recognizing these feelings and knowing that stressful times pass, can help build resilience. Want some support in talking about emotions? Take a look at one of the books or videos below this article.
- Explore positive coping strategies Practice positive strategies to improve your mood, calm down, modify our thinking and overall well-being. These coping strategies can include strategies as singing, playing a game with the family, dancing, exercise, positive self-talk, reading, drawing, music and Netflix/movies. But also, yoga, mindfulness, cooking/baking, talking to a friend or family member or other activities that are fun or give you joy and make you feel good.
- Consider your media consumption. Be mindful of how much media you are checking and minimize how often you are reading stories. Try to keep a healthy balance (both online and offline) in your daily routines and lifestyle. When online, consider the source and fact-check to prevent fake news, and think before you share. Help your children and teenagers manage this as well.
Tell kids that you will continue to keep them updated as you learn more. If you notice your child is still worried or anxious, be assured that this is a normal reaction, and continue conversations and providing care for your child. If you find that additional support is needed, please reach out to our school psychologist and counselor Ms. Elzemiek Chell via e-mail. She can refer you to outside counseling or schedule time in with you or your child to make a plan on how to support them during this time.
Poster made by the school support team
Books to support your conversation
- Something Bad Happened: A Kid’s Guide to Coping With Events in the News, By Dawn Huebner
- When your scared and worried, by James J. Christ
- The way I feel, by Janan Cain