How to talk to your child about the coronavirus
I was standing in front of empty shelves in a shop, looking at the last few remaining bars of soap, when I heard two kids start talking. “Why are they buying all the soap?” asked the younger boy, around seven years old. His older, perhaps about nine years old, sister replied “Because they think we are all going to die”. “But WE aren’t going to die, right?” worried him, and the sister tried to comfort him saying “No, WE aren’t going to die.”
Whether you like it or not, and whether you try to shelter them from the news, kids know full well that something is going on. They aren't stupid. And it is best to make sure that the information they do get is correct and they are not scared or anxious of what they are hearing.
After my six year old came back from school this week I asked her if she had heard about coronavirus, and she told yes she had and that the kids had been talking about it on the playground. So I decided it was time to have that chat, dissuade any fears and explain what she can do.
I’ve had a look online for some instructions on how best to talk to kids about coronavirus, and there are some good summaries. The guidance in a nutshell is to keep things age-appropriate and simple, check your own anxieties before you speak to them, and focus on the impact of the virus on them and what they can do in this situation. BBC News shared a good summary of how to speak with your child about corona, Child Mind gave some good tips on the matter too, and Save the Children provides seven quick tips.
My personal observations after having the talk with my child was that it helped to:
- Keep it brief, simple and age-appropriate;
- Be guided by what they wanted to know;
- Be truthful, not panicking nor minimising;
- Explain that kids usually get only a little bit sick with corona virus, and;
- Explain what they can do to avoid the virus, so instructions on washing hands and how to sneeze safely.
According to the experts these actions help because kids can be more anxious if they feel like they are being kept in the dark, they are mostly worried about the impact on themselves and immediate family, and giving them simple actions to take can help them feel in control and empowered.
To start the conversation, I asked these questions to my six year old, and provided these answers. I hope they can be of help to you too when you will talk to your kids about coronavirus:
Ask "Have you heard about coronavirus?"
She said yes, that they had spoken at the playground about it, but had not heard teachers speak about it. She said that some of her friends said it was just a sniffle and sneeze, nothing to worry about. I explained that while for most people it was like a cold, it could make some people very ill, old people and people with difficult health, so we need to be careful to try stop corona.
Your child would by now probably have heard something about the virus, and may have some concerns. It is worth asking what they have heard so you can correct any misinformation. The next question then to follow would be:
Ask "What would you like to know about coronavirus?"
She wanted to know two very specific things: how does it spread and how did it travel here all the way from China.
We went through the droplets, cross-contamination and touching face issues. I found the easiest way to explain this was to demonstrate with actions to ensure she understood me correctly and could follow what I meant. I explained it usually infects people because they touch a surface someone else with the sickness has touched. To demonstrate this, I pretend-sneezed in my hand, then leaned on the table. I then pretended to be another person who comes in and touches the table, and then rubs her eyes.
We then discussed how the disease came all the way from China to UK. I explained that there may have been a person, or more likely, several people, who had the virus but didn't know they had it. They came to Europe, or UK to travel, or to work or to see family, and then infected people here, who again infected more people.
Explain what to do to avoid getting the virus
I explained that most important things to do are to sneeze correctly and wash your hands thoroughly. 'Catch it, bin it, kill it' was a good catch phrase to use - so sneezing or blowing your nose in a tissue, putting it straight to the bin and then washing your hands. Or if you don't have a tissue and you need to sneeze or cough, then sneezing in your elbow is OK too.
Hands need to be washed for 20 seconds with warm water and soap, so we practiced washing every finger thoroughly while singing Happy Birthday to You twice. I also explained she needs to wash her hands every time she comes in from outside, before food (especially important) and after the bathroom or blowing her nose. I also mentioned no sharing drinks or snacks with friends.
And remind them they can always come and ask you more questions
They might like to know more later, or hear something, so keeping that communication open is the key! Further, expert-led tips on how to speak to your kids about corona are available on BBC News, Child Mind, and Save to Children
If their interest in all things disease are now peaked I can recommend The Bacteria Book (on amazon.co.uk or amazon.com) - fantastic and child-friendly educational resource on bacteria, viruses and fungi.
Have you spoken with your kids about this virus already?