A lot of families across the world are struggling to adapt to the evolving changes in their daily lives brought about by the coronavirus pandemic. During these trying times, it’s easy for families, especially children, to get scared. After all, this public health crisis is new to all of us. All of us are trying to adjust to the new normal.
Susanne Legena, Plan International Australia CEO, stated that children are witnessing one of the most challenging and significant events of a generation. “By now, children will have heard about the virus; they may have family members who have been quarantined after returning from international travel, or they might even know someone who is sick. Children may be feeling overwhelmed, sad, and stressed, so it’s critical in a time like this to ensure they feel protected and comforted,” she said.
Parents need to guide their children because they are more vulnerable than we can ever know. The isolation, loss of daily routine, and uncertainty can lead to anxiety, fear, depression, and loneliness. When you feel this way, your kids may feel it too — and they often sense the way you're feeling. While it might be very challenging, talking to children about what’s going on would be incredibly helpful.
Teaching Children About COVID-19 Facts
With the increasing misinformation across all social media platforms, it’s easy to get lost in fake news. Children should learn how coronavirus can infect people. For instance, parents can explain that this disease can make our body sick, thus, affecting our health. They could identify the symptoms by learning the signs of COVID-19, including a cough, fever, and trouble taking deep breaths.
It’s also important to explain to them how the virus spreads. The virus can enter people's bodies when it's on their hands and they touch their mouths, noses, or eyes. Since a virus isn’t visible to the naked eye, they won’t be able to see it. This is where parents will teach them the importance of washing hands regularly and trying not to touch their mouth, nose, or eyes. According to Parents.com, an American mass circulation monthly magazine that features scientific information on child development, parents should also be cautious about letting kids consume media without them.
"Everyone should be cautious of the sensational media 'hooks' employed to draw eyes, ears, and clicks to news stories about coronavirus. Kids, in particular, should probably not be consuming such information without an adult present to provide an age-appropriate context and filter out the more anxiety-provoking content,” Charles Bailey, M.D. medical director for infection prevention at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange County, California, said.
Provide Information That’s Truthful and Age-Appropriate
It’s normal for children to overthink, ask many situations, and imagine situations worse than reality. Experts say that it’s important to offer developmentally appropriate facts to reduce their fears. It would be helpful for them to learn truthful and age-appropriate information about COVID-19. For instance, talk to them about how some stories about COVID-19 on the Internet and social media may be based on rumors and inaccurate information.
It would be easier for children to understand all the facts or information about the virus if they are presented briefly with appropriate reassurances that adults are there to help keep them healthy and to take care of them if they do get sick. "Use lively terms like germ and bugs and incorporate animated pictures. Also, use very concrete language about how boogers or spit can cause germs to pass to one person or the next,” Rosemary Olivero, M.D., division chief for pediatric infectious disease at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, said.
It’s also helpful to discuss the efforts national, state, and community leaders are taking to prevent the virus from spreading. Fortunately, leading health scientists and child psychologists have joined forces with writers, educators, and artists to produce innovative communication materials that would help in explaining the pandemic to children.
According to the World Economic Forum, an independent international organization committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic, and other leaders of society to shape global, regional, and industry agendas, these innovative communication materials have great potential to make complex topics more meaningful to diverse audiences by combining visuals with powerful metaphors, character-driven narratives, and an emotionally charged storyline.
Experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that parents should reassure their children that they are safe. Let them know it is okay if they feel upset and share with them how you deal with your own stress so that they can learn how to cope with you. These are important things to do because children may become extremely worried and anxious after hearing about the mounting death toll on the news and the new syndrome affecting children.
Heidi McBain, a licensed and family therapist, said that parents should be aware if there’s anything that’s been bothering their kids. “Ideally you have open communication with them, so they can come to you with questions and you can also bring up these topics with them if you feel like it’s necessary and helpful,” she said.
According to Healthline, an American website and provider of health information, parents need to talk about the children’s fears with them so they can assure them that they are being taken care of. If they start to experience panic attacks or phobias surrounding coronavirus or anything else, McBain suggests seeking professional help to help them work through these fears in a healthy way.
Psychologist Karen Young added that a pandemic like this could fuel anxiety, distress, and even depression in children. Thus, it’s extremely important that parents acknowledge their feelings and provide reassurance. “Children might respond in many different ways to news of COVID-19. They might feel scared, sad, confused or they might feel nothing at all. Let them know they aren’t alone, and that whatever they are feeling is completely understandable,” she said.
Jamie Howard, Ph.D., a child psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, also said that an important way to reassure kids is to emphasize the safety precautions you and others are taking in this crisis. “Kids feel empowered when they know what to do to keep themselves safe,” he said.