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Speaking to your kids about Coronavirus

Tips on speaking with your kids about the Coronavirus

It seems like it was only yesterday that we were listening to advice on how to speak to our children about anxieties they may be facing about climate change during the catastrophic bushfires.

Today, we are facing an unprecedented battle against Coronavirus. As parents, we may be feeling confused about how to discuss and address COVID-19 with our children. If you are worried about the psychological impact this may be having on your children you are not alone.

Here are some tips to help you talk with your kids about the Coronavirus and to address any concerns or anxieties they may be having.

1.​ Focus​ on helping your children feel safe.

Children are always looking to us to take their emotional lead. If we are in a state of anxiety they will pick up on this and no matter what reassurance we offer may not lead to them feeling any safer than before. Before you speak with your kids make sure that you are in a calm state of mind, use a soothing tone of voice and create a space for them to be able to express themselves. Also be mindful that they are often listening to our adult conversations even when you don’t think they’re

paying attention. Limit how much news or conversations they may be exposed to at home and shield them from being able to overhear conversations that you may need to have that may cause them more alarm than you would want.

2.​ Let​ them lead the conversation

We want to provide our kids with information that is necessary and important but keep it age appropriate. The best way to do this is to ask them what they know or have heard about it. Ask them if there is anything that they are worried about or would like to know from you. Address any misinformation they may have by giving them accurate facts. Do not give them more information than they are asking for and if they seem disinterested in talking about it don’t push the conversation. Just let them know that you are on top of it, are accessing the best most accurate information from the right places and that they can come to you with any questions and concerns.

3.​ Focus​ on what they can do, what is being done, and what you are doing to keep things safe.

We want to give specific and accurate information. Focusing on letting them know that good hygiene and social distancing is as much as we need to do to stop the germs from spreading. Help them feel that they are part of the fight against the virus by hand washing, wiping down surfaces, coughing/sneezing into their elbow and following any other guidelines that may be in place.

Also let them know that you are prepared to work from home and keep them from school in order to help the community stay safe. Tell them that these measures are in place to prevent the germs from spreading. We can also share any advancements that may be happening in medicine. Reassure them that these steps are signs that doctors, the community and the government are working hard to keep everyone safe.

4.​ Help​ them feel prepared

It is difficult for anyone to predict exactly where we may be in a few weeks’ time. At the time of writing this, kids are still going to school and public spaces and venues are still open. Given that there have been other measures put in place in other cities around the world, we may be able to prepare them for these measures by letting them know that they may have to stay home from school, see their friends through video chats, and dance concerts and birthday parties rescheduled to later dates. We can also let them know that visiting friends and families may be temporarily stopped. Give them alternatives though. For example, let them know that you can organise nightly or daily group video chats with their friends and relatives, do some online and fun schoolwork (they’ll probably eye-roll). Also let them make some suggestions for coping during this time and see if you can come up with a plan together.

5.​ Show​ compassion and empathy

Let kids know that it is normal and natural to feel worry and anxiety during times when there is uncertainty. As caring parents, we often want to tell our kids not to worry, but the reality is telling ourselves not to worry rarely works for us, let alone kids. You can tell your children that you understand why they are feeling concerned and that it is ok AND that you believe that it will all be ok. Give them your attention, time and cuddles if they’re ok with that.

Show compassion for their concerns. I had to postpone my daughter’s 10​th​birthday party and she was very upset and angry with me. Rather than justifying my actions, I actually just let her know I understood. I let her express herself without judgement and reassured her that this was temporary and that we would have her party as soon as we were able to.

6.​ Keep​ up your routines and schedule your days

Try to keep things as normal as possible. Wake-up times, schedules for getting dressed and fed should be kept as normal as possible. If we need to keep our kids home from school then set up a schedule of different activities, break times, exercise and chores. This will help maintain their focus on activities, provide a state of normalcy and prevent them from being too focused on current events.

There are already lists with a wealth of online resources for kids to stay engaged and stimulated circulating online. These include online museum visits, online art classes, fun maths classes and games, creative arts ideas etc.

Don’t forget the importance of exercise! While we are still able to go outdoors get as much fresh air and outdoor walks in as possible. If we are asked to stay indoors, get creative and find an online kid’s exercise class, try an online dance or karate class. Even make it fun and have a dance off to music videos – dorkiest dance moves wins!

7.​ Lead​ by example

Let children see that you are going through the day as normal as possible despite changes that are occurring around us. Model calmness, courage, hope and optimism - not only will this benefit your kids, but probably also help you too.

If you believe that your child is experiencing higher than expected levels of anxiety, speak with your GP and ask to see a psychologist to get more specific strategies for your child.

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