How to talk to our children about COVID-19
Coronovirus is undoubtedly on most of our minds at the moment, with the situation in the UK and worldwide changing day by day. Advice and guidance from the Government and Medical community is being updated regularly and it can feel overwhelming for some of us, including our children.
Dr. Cleo Williamson, is a member of our Just Chill baby Sleep team, and a Clinical Psychologist who works with children, young people and their families both privately and within the NHS.
Cleo has put together some helpful tips on how to talk to our children about COVID-19:
Difficult times often leaves our children asking us difficult questions. Here are a few ideas to help think about how you might want to address the anxiety provoking topic of COVID-19 with your children…
-Let Conversations Be Led By Your Child
It’s helpful not to assume what aspect of this situation children want to talk about or are worried about. Jumping in with your own assumptions may make it harder for your child to ask the questions which are important to them.
-Give ‘Age Appropriate’ Answers
Try not to get tied up in knots about giving ‘accurate’ complex factual information to younger children. The aim is to provide an explanation that helps to make sense of what is happening, and doesn’t confuse things further. A general guide is to start with a simplistic opening description (E.g. Coronavirus is a new illness which makes people feel unwell) and allow your child’s questions or reaction to guide how detailed you go. For some children reassurance that most people are fine and recover quickly may be very important.
For older children (adolescents), there may be more complexity to their questions as they are usually more tuned into the wider discussions going on at home, at school and on social media. Young people vary so greatly it would be inappropriate to suggest a blank way to answer. I would therefore suggest having a think about what you’re comfortable sharing (e.g. potential job loss? Vulnerability of an elderly family member?) and use their questions as a guide to how sophisticated your explanations need to be.
For both ages, remember you will probably have more than one discussion about this topic. So don’t feel pressured to cover it all at once!
-Don’t Shut Down The Conversation!
News about COVID-19 brings about uncomfortable feelings in all of us. Especially for our younger children, this may be the first time they’ve really thought about illness or death. Despite it being potentially difficult, it’s important to listen to their anxieties and fears if they bring them to you. Remember, COVID-19 is not the cause of your child’s anxiety, it’s the trigger/opportunity for children to share worries they naturally hold about life.
-Its Okay Not To Have All The Answers
In uncertain times it becomes harder to be the all-knowing parent. Instead of getting caught up in providing the ‘perfect’ answer that will erase all of your child’s worries (impossible!), shift your focus to your overall reaction. In moments of stress children watch their parents every move as a way of learning and understanding how to act. Modelling how to be calm and optimistic, whilst unsure and worried is arguably more valuable than any answer you can give.
-Keep A Routine Going
Despite presenting a calm exterior, changes are going to be happening out of your control. Creating a consistent, predictable routine for your children will help them to feel secure and contained, when so many things in their environment may be changing.
-Have Fun And Turn Off The News!
Keep positive and try to to enjoy family time. Play music, games and keep your home a positive space. Be mindful of the news playing in the background and perhaps keep the updates until after bedtime. Even young children are able to understand seemingly adult conversations.
Of course there are many specific situations this blog does not cover. This is a challenging time and protecting your children from all the health and economic implications may not be possible. Remember, you know your child best and if you really feel worried about their mental health you can visit https://youngminds.org.uk/ or contact your GP for advice.