Are your kids feeling worried about coronavirus? Even if they haven’t got a full understanding of the issue, they’re probably picking up on how others in their community are feeling, acting and talking about it. This incomplete understanding and a vague sense of an impending threat can be really scary for them.
As Maggie Dent points out in her video, Australians have been through some very real trauma lately. This means that we’re already in a heightened state, and probably extra-sensitive to anything we perceive to be a threat to our families. Coronavirus (COVID-19) is one of these things. While it is a genuine threat, it’s important to put that threat into perspective. Around 81% of cases are very mild, and people recover quickly. The population group that is most at risk is the elderly, followed by those with lowered immune systems. As far as we know, no children have died as a result of coronavirus infection. Furthermore, most of the people who have been affected are not in Australia. There are people in Australia with coronavirus, but it has not reached epidemic proportions here.
There’s been a lot of media coverage of coronavirus, and, like all media coverage, it requires an adult’s understanding of the world and a healthy dose of rationality to be understood for what it is. This is a lot trickier for kids. They’re more susceptible to alarmist reporting, and they can see and feel when people around them are panicking, without necessarily being able to view this behaviour objectively and in context. If it feels scary, it is scary, and they may be unable to moderate that fear without your support.
So, with the help of ParentTV expert Maggie Dent and some good, old-fashioned logic of our own, we’ve put together some tips for parents on how to reassure children who are worried about coronavirus:
Acknowledge their concerns
If your child’s worried about coronavirus, it’s important to acknowledge and validate their concerns. They need to feel heard and understood before you can address their fears. Yes, coronavirus is real and it’s upsetting that people have died and others are sick. Having empathy for those affected is never a bad thing. Try not to minimise their feelings.
Arm them with facts
Once you’ve worked out what they do and don’t know about coronavirus, it’s important to arm them with some facts. Give them the statistics about how many people actually have coronavirus, how many recover, and what doctors and scientists are doing about it. When they understand how it spreads, they can be part of the prevention efforts (see next point).
Empower them with strategies
Because coronavirus is transmitted through droplets, there are some easy hygiene practices kids can do that are important, effective and empowering for them. Proper handwashing, sneezing into their elbows, not touching their face with their hands a lot, and using hand sanitiser if it’s available are all excellent strategies for reducing their risk of contracting any virus.
Invite them to support the Chinese community in your area
Talk to your child about how misinformation has led some people to abandon businesses operated by Chinese people, and how devastating this has been for those families. Talk to them about how you can make a choice to support those businesses instead, and how doing so is a vote for reason and a vote against fear mongering.
Role model a calm response
We are human, and sometimes humans get swept along in the tide of other people’s responses. But, if you panic, your kids will panic. Even if you’re feeling worried, try to keep a lid on it and role model a calm and measured response for your kids. It can be hard, but co-regulation is an important part of helping them to feel safe and reassured.
Help them access credible sources for updates
If your child wants to stay updated on what is happening with coronavirus, help them to access credible, accurate and age-appropriate sources for this information. Knowing how to stay informed can give them a sense of control and agency. The Australian Government Department of Health and HealthDirect sites can be good resources for older kids.
If you or your child is feeling distressed about this issue, you may want to seek professional support. The following services can assist you:
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Kids Helpline: 1800 551 800
Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636