While it might be tempting to try to shelter your child from any discussion about coronavirus or COVID-19, you could be doing them a disservice, as per a specialist advice from Healthpoint, a Mubadala Healthcare Provider. The leading multidisciplinary hospital is urging parents to sit down with their children and explain the global pandemic in a way they will understand.
Dr Maurice Khoury, the Specialist Pediatrician at Healthpoint, points out that parents cannot simply ignore the situation as children and adolescents are aware that the world around them is changing. In addition to the fact that their daycare, nursery or schools have closed, they have heard their peers or adults discussing it, or have been exposed to it on social media and television.
“It is vital to talk to your child to ensure they have understood the message about protective hygiene habits, but also to ease their anxiety and correct misinformation,” says Dr Khoury.
“Children are extremely perceptive, and if adults are not talking about something, it can make them worry more. They could also be distressed by hearing messages they do not fully understand or that are taken out of context, particularly if it comes from sources such as social media rather than experts.”
Dr Khoury adds, however, that the conversation does not have to be an in-depth discussion, it should rather be focused on finding out what they already know, and providing reassurance.
“Take your cues from your child; find out how they are feeling and encourage them to talk to you if they have any questions or hear something that worries them. You can do this by asking open-ended questions to find out what they already know and dispel any fears they might have.”
“Above all, watch their reactions and body language, and be sensitive to their level of anxiety,” he advises.”
Dr Khoury adds that you should adapt your message for their age group, and emphasize how germs can make us sick, but not in an overly alarming way that could encourage an obsessive fear of germs.
“If your child is very young, you can simply explain that germs can make people sick, and that washing your hands can help you stay healthy. Supplement this with fun activities such as singing a song together for 20 seconds (for example, two rounds of ‘Happy Birthday’) while handwashing to demonstrate how long this activity should take.”
Dr Khoury adds that while you should speak to your children about the virus, you should also limit the time spent talking and thinking about it, and try to keep life as normal as possible.
“Ensure that even while practicing social distancing, you still do fun things and don’t focus on the virus. Even though your child is at home, keep days structured, with regular mealtimes and bedtimes. It is also an ideal time to focus on indoor activities such as crafts, board games, or video-chatting to their grandparents.”
He also suggests being more vigilant than usual in monitoring and limiting social media and screen time.
“The virus is such a media focus at the moment, and more worryingly, alarming and incorrect messages can be spread easily through social media. Explain to your child that some information isn’t true, and that it is best to rely only on experts,” he says.
Dr Khoury’s Top 5 Tips for Talking to Children about Coronavirus
- Answer your child’s questions honestly and in a simple way. Remember, it’s all right if you can’t answer everything; the main idea is to let your child know they can ask you anything. If you don’t know the answer, don’t guess, just explain that this is a new virus and that not everything about it is known, but as soon as it is, you will let them know.
- While you don’t want to create alarm, also don’t minimize or dismiss their concerns. Acknowledge their feelings, and let them know that it is natural to feel nervous, but that there is no need for panic.
- Your child will pick up on how you are feeling, so remain calm. Reassure them that doctors, scientists and governments all over the world are working together to make everything better, and to keep everyone safe.
- It can help children to make them realize they are not powerless, and that they can play their part by practicing good hygiene habits such as handwashing, not touching their faces, and sneezing or coughing into their armpits. Explain that by following these rules, they are helping to keep other people safe as well by not spreading disease.
- Help to put things into context by reassuring your children that they themselves are not likely to get very sick from the disease, but that they should still be careful to make sure they don’t spread it as it can make adults sick. Make sure that they know schools and leisure activities are being curtailed not out of immediate danger, but rather as a special precaution to protect people and make sure people stay healthy.