How to speak to your kids about the coronavirus

When hand sanitiser is sold out, flights are being cancelled, quarantines being initiated, and more cases of coronavirus being reported, it’s hard not to freak out a bit and worry about our health and that of our kids.

While we want our kids to be aware of COVID-19 and take good steps to avoid it, we don’t want them to be anxious either. If your child is too young to understand about the virus, then just remind them about handwashing and encourage it regularly.

Tips on how to discuss COVID-19 with your preschoolers

1. Start the conversation

Ask your child how much they know about the virus and ensure that what they know is correct. There’s a lot of misinformation out there, but we’re trusting what the World Health Organisation (WHO) is saying – head to their website for news and guidelines. Be honest with them and don’t sugarcoat facts.

There’s no need to bombard them with stats and updates – tell them what’s necessary and age-appropriate. Encourage them to keep chatting about coronavirus and to ask you if they have any questions.

2. Acknowledge their fears

While we don’t want to make our kids anxious, we also want to acknowledge when they are feeling scared about what they’ve heard or what they know. Listen to your child, and recognise that they might be feeling scared. Remind them that they can come to you whenever they’re feeling anxious.

3. Reassure them

Help them to understand that steps are being taken to contain coronavirus and that many people are working hard to keep your family safe. Tell them that they will unlikely get the virus and that not everyone who has the virus gets sick. Tell them that if they feel sick, it doesn’t mean they have the virus, but that it’s still safer for them to stay at home until they’re better.

“Help them to understand that steps are being taken to contain coronavirus and that many people are working hard to keep your family safe.”

4. Keep things “normal”

You can help your child cope better by sticking to your routine and allowing them to continue to relax and play.

5. Teach them to wash their hands properly and to protect themselves

The coronavirus is transmitted mainly by coughing and touching surfaces, and the WHO recommends washing your hands thoroughly as the main way to stay healthy. Remind your kids to wash their hands before eating, after playing, when coming home from somewhere, and after using the bathroom, blowing their nose, coughing or sneezing. They should wash for at least 20 seconds with soap and water (try singing “Happy birthday” twice, or any other familiar tune for 20 seconds so that the length of time becomes routine).

Hand sanitisers that are at least 60% alcohol are a good partner and backup when you’re out and about.

Aside from washing, show your child to cover a cough or a sneeze with their elbow and to not get too close to people who are coughing or sneezing.

6. Be calm

Kids pick up on your anxiety and while it’s normal to be feeling panicked and scared, try to process it in a way that doesn’t affect your child negatively. Try to be more positive around them if possible. You’re still “entitled” to your worry, but don’t let that become your child’s anxiety.

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