Every day, we grapple with news about the evolving COVID-19 situation, and that includes our kids. As parents, we play a vital role in helping our children make sense of what they hear in a way that is honest, accurate and reduces anxiety and stress.
Here are some tips to help parents talk to their children about COVID-19:
Stay calm and reassuring. Children are very attuned to us, so we must be aware of what we transmit to them both verbally and non-verbally. They will react to both what you say and how you say it. Parents play a bigger role in their child’s sense of safety and security than other stressors in life.
Spend time to answer their questions. It is common for children to seek more attention and be more demanding during difficult times. Be sure to let children know they can come to you when they have questions. Remember to listen to your children. Speak kindly, reassure them, and avoid encouraging frightening fantasies.
Provide age-appropriate information. Provide facts about what had happened, explain what is going on now, and give them clear guidelines about how to reduce the risk of being infected by COVID-19 in words that they can understand. Don’t overload the child with too much information. Children do not need to know every little thing. We do not want to give them information that will raise undue anxiety.
Keep to regular routines and schedules as much as possible. Consistency and structure help us stay grounded and calmer during times of stress. This is essential to children, especially younger ones, so that they know what to expect and do. Structured days with regular mealtimes, bedtimes, school/learning, as well as time for playing safely and relaxing are an essential part of keeping kids happy and healthy. Help create new activities in a new environment if need be. One tip is to plan a schedule and go over it as a family each morning.
Help children find positive ways to identify and express feelings such as anxiety, fear and sadness. Children can experience complex feelings like adults. Learning to identify and express feelings in a positive way (e.g. drawing, writing, dancing) will help children to develop the skills they need to manage them.
Be creative and make preventive measures fun. Some examples:
Hand washing. Make washing hands more exciting by pretending there are two giant octopuses wrestling each other (while you sing happy birthday to them).
Stop kids from touching their face. Draw up a counting chart. If anyone gets caught touching their face, they get a dot on the chart. The person with the least touches in a day gets a reward (e.g. extra scoop of ice-cream).
Get kids to cover their mouth when they cough/sneeze. Grab a pen and draw a googly-eyed face at both their palm. Tell them that it’s their pet Palm Monster and it only eats sneezes and coughs.