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Story | Research
12 March 2020

How to talk to your children about COVID-19

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Photograph: Halfpoint/Shutterstock

Experts from Sidra Medicine share their thoughts on how to approach children on the topic of the current coronavirus pandemic.

Amid the recent coronavirus pandemic, it is important that parents help children feel safe and calm. Though it is a difficult topic to explain, talking about COVID-19 with children is much better than avoiding it. Health experts at Sidra Medicine say discussing the pandemic with children offers learning opportunities, possibilities to increase their resilience and positively affect their physical and mental health.

Photograph: wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock

Here are some suggestions by mental health experts at the hospital to support parents in helping them talk to their children about the ongoing pandemic and bring them comfort during these taxing times:

  • Talk about the outbreak. It is generally not good to leave children in the dark or ignore talking about something that is in the news. Not talking about it with trusted adults makes it seem scarier than it is. Help to reduce panicking behaviors and prejudice/discrimination that have arisen during this time and reinforce care for others in appropriate ways.

  • Promote good health practices. Practice how to cough into your elbow, how to wash hands the right way, how to resist touching your face. Use fun ways to keep children engaged. You can set a timer and have the whole family sit around the table and see who can go the longest without touching their face. You can also have a competition for who can come up with the best song to sing while washing their hands.

  • Make them feel heard. Let children know it is okay to feel uncomfortable or anxious at this time, and that even adults feel this way. Talk with them about how they can reduce thoughts and feelings associated with anxiety if they have them. Check in often with your children.

  • Help them embrace the uncertainty. It is okay to let your child know you do not have all the answers and you will share with them what they need to know when you have important new information to share. It is also important to acknowledge your child’s questions and the feelings behind their questions. Don’t downplay the enormity of the pandemic. Offer reassurance about your ability as a parent to protect your child.

  • Keep them engaged. Maintain or re-establish normal routines as much as possible. Try to keep your children engaged every day in activities that they can help with and feel confident about, i.e. small chores or projects they can work, helping to cook or learning a new skill.

When discussing the ongoing outbreak with children, it is important to remember that children of different ages need different explanation approaches from their parents. According to mental health experts at Sidra Medicine, although most of us will not be affected medically by COVID-19, we are all already affected psychologically, and this includes children, making it even more necessary to discuss the outbreak with them.

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