There are over 100 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the US so far, so your children must have heard of it by now either through the news or from other kids at school. However, it’s important that you have a conversation about it with them so you can ease their anxieties and make sure they aren’t misinformed. The New York Times has set up a guide that will help you discuss this topic with your children, getting advice from licensed professionals from all over the country. If you need help with how to approach the topic of the coronavirus with your child, check out these tips below:
1. Process your own fears and anxieties first
Abi Gerwirtz, Ph. D. suggests that you talk to a friend, partner, or therapist before talking to your child in order to calm yourself down. Dr. Gerwitz is a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Minnesota who is also the author of the book, “When the World Feels Like a Scary Place: Essential Conversations for Anxious Parents and Worried Kids.” Approaching your child with a worried demeanor can make your child’s anxiety worse, so you want to be as calm as possible before having this conversation with them.
2. Assess what your child already knows
If your child is under 6-years-old and has not heard about the virus yet, you may be better off not mentioning it all to avoid unnecessary anxiety. If your child is a bit older and has heard about it through the news or through friends at school, ask exactly how much they know about the virus before diving into the topic. Understanding what they already know will give you a better idea of what you should and should not discuss.
3. Talk to them in language they’ll understand
Discuss the topic in an age-appropriate manner. Dr. Nia Heard-Garris, M.D., an attending physician at the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago says you can say something like, “This illness is different than a cold because it’s new, but people are trying really hard to make sure it doesn’t spread, and they treat people who are sick. If you ever have questions, talk to me.”
4. Don’t downplay their fears
Dr. Gerwitz suggests that you don’t simply say “You’ll be fine” when your child expresses their anxieties. Address any fears that they have and let them know that what they are feeling is valid, while also sticking to the facts. You don’t want to downplay the virus as something to not worry about, but you also don’t want to blow it out of proportion. Simply listening to and acknowledging their fears will ease their anxiety.
5. Revisit hand washing techniques and emphasize good hygiene
Washing your hands is the number 1 weapon we have to avoid this virus. Teach your children to thoroughly wash their hands for at least 20 seconds before and after meals, or after touching anything dirty. Singing “Happy Birthday” twice is a good benchmark for how long you should wash your hands, but you can also take this opportunity to learn a catchy song or make handwashing a fun game that will encourage them to make handwashing a habit. The video below is one of the many videos on Youtube that makes handwashing fun:
Remember that hand sanitizer is NOT an alternative to hand washing! It’s useful for when you can’t access water and soap, but it does not effectively remove grime which harbors bacteria or kills certain pathogens. In order for hand sanitizer to be effective, you need to rub it into your skin for 20 seconds and make sure it dries – which is not as easy to do with children who are usually too impatient.
Emphasize to your children not to touch their eyes, nose, or ears – the main places bacteria can enter your body. Get them into the habit of being aware when they rub their eyes or nose, and to have them wash their hands immediately when they do so they don’t spread their own bacteria to everyone else.
6. Frame school closures as a good thing
Having their routine disrupted by having schools close can be very alarming. Try to frame it as positively as possible for your child. Saying something like “This means more time for games!” instead of something scary. Make sure to keep a routine to keep a sense of normalcy, such as making sure they get enough exercise to stay as healthy as possible. Most importantly, enjoy the extra time as much as you can with your child and spend quality time together.
Overall, being on the same page as your child and making sure they know the proper way to stay clean will ease anxieties for everyone in your family.