Family, Health And Wellness

How To Talk To Your Kids About Coronavirus

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How To Talk To Your Kids About Coronavirus

Given the global nature of the respiratory illness known as Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), your kids are bound to hear about it, if they haven't already, and from a variety of different sources. Any place you find children — including day care centers, schools and playgrounds — you'll find kids who are listening.

Frequent news updates with the facts and statistics about school closures, the number of deaths per day, and the locations of recent outbreaks intensify the impact coronavirus anxiety may have on you and your children.

How are you supposed to talk to your kids about coronavirus when you're not even sure what to think or feel about it yourself?

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Kids tend to believe what they hear. Remember as a kid how you automatically assumed that whatever was reported on television was the Truth with a capital 'T'?

Spoiler alert: when Santa's latitude and longitude were reported on Christmas Eve, you likely believed he was there (and that he existed) until you reached a certain age. Same for those miracle claims for the Magic Toilet Bowl Cleaner you saw advertised in commercials.

As adults, we (hopefully) know that what we hear, see, and read in the media sometimes may not be (completely) true. Kids don’t know that, though, and explaining it can be tough.

Sometimes even as grownups we don't know how to distinguish between fact and fiction. What is media hype and what is science? (Insert shoulder shrug emoji here!)

The key to talking with your kids about the coronavirus is to educate them — once you've educated yourself first. Of course, doing that without causing them or yourself worry, panic, or a sense of doom and gloom is usually the hardest part.

Do your own due diligence; seek education from a top notch source like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) before talking with your kids.

Keep in mind that some of the questions your kids ask you during the discussion may not have answers yet. Assure your kids that doctors and researchers are working hard at this very moment to find the answers we all want.

To make the conversation less stressful and worrying, here are five things to keep in mind when talking with your children about the coronavirus.

1. Be calm.

Kids will follow your lead.

If you are matter-of-fact, your kids will sense that there is no need to panic. If you are freaking out, your kids will sense there is a need to panic, and they will panic in response.

Signs of panic can be obvious, like if they tell you straight out that they're scared. They may also respond with more subtle forms of anxiety, like insisting on keeping the lights on in their room all night.

2. Be informed.

Kids will have heard fact and fiction from other sources.

Let them ask you questions. Answer as best you can. If you don't know the answer to a question, find it. And emphasize that doctors are working around the clock to find a cure.

Here are some tips they can follow to play active role in staying healthy:

  • Encourage them to wash their hands and make doing so more of a fun activity than a drag by suggesting they sing a 20-second song they like as they do. Are they a fan of "Happy Birthday"? "Baby Shark"? "Mambo No. 5," anyone?
  • Remind your kids about the importance of personal space, especially around people who are sick.
  • Encourage them not to touch their own face unless they just washed their hands.

Overall, be mindful of offering TMI (too much information). Keep it basic kind of like when a child first asks where babies come from. Your reply should take into account the child's age, as too much information can backfire at any age.

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3. Be attuned.

Generally, there are two kinds of people: those for whom information helps alleviate anxiety, and those for whom information increases it.

This is true for children, too.

If your child is in the “more anxious with more information“ group, definitely limit their exposure to TV, social media and other discussions about the virus.

If your child feels less anxious with more information, provide then, within reason, as much access to information as you deem appropriate.

In either case, beware of any scare tactics and hype that you or they may encounter.

Be sure to consider the age appropriateness of the information you are sharing. Teenagers, for example, will have different concerns than elementary school aged kids. Ask your teenager what they have heard, what their thoughts are, and do a lot of listening. Hopefully you can catch your teenager in a talkative mood. Sometimes, the time you spend driving in the car together is a good time to chat.

4. Be instructive.

Again, emphasize that hand washing is a really good habit, and not just during the coronavirus scare. The same is true of giving plenty of space to people who are coughing, sneezing, and blowing their nose. Think of this as a great opportunity to teach good hygiene habits.

Remind children there are helpful things they do have control over to lower their own risk. Encourage them, for example, to focus on things like the aforementioned hand washing and sneezing into their armpit, elbow, or upper sleeves.

5. Be available.

Your children may need a little more assurance from you during this time. Extra hugs, a few more minutes of reading together at night, or whatever the little things are that mean a lot to your child — do those.

The words "pandemic" and "quarantine" are downright scary, and they are often found in the same sentence as "coronavirus".

Your responsibility as a parent is to make sure you are educated and informed so that you can allay your child’s fears.

It's equally important for you to be sure you have whatever support you need in the midst of coronavirus outbreak reports.

Keep in mind that you are not alone. Seek support for yourself or your child if managing their reactions on your own isn’t working.

And be sure to remind yourself of the consistent evidence that children seem to be more resistant to this particular virus and individuals younger than 19 so far appear less likely to contract it or be sidelined by it themselves.

RELATED: The Best Way To Disinfect Your Phone & Keep Yourself Safe From A Coronavirus Outbreak

Dr Elayne Daniels, PhD,  NHSP,  RYT, is a Boston-based clinical psychologist. Media literacy is a skill she often teaches to children and teens, especially with media's health-related claims.