In this crazy coronavirus world, us parents are doing the best we can to reassure our children and help them cope.
What did we used to talk about before Covid-19? I can’t even remember. Since the coronavirus first hit, it seems all my conversations now revolve around numbers of cases, or the latest nugget of (often fake) news. Every slight tickle in my throat has me on high “Is this it?” alert. I’m constantly falling down a news and social media rabbit hole. I wake up with my stomach churning, wondering what new global measures I’ll hear about today and if my loved ones around the world are safe. Despite knowing the Singapore government is going a phenomenal job, my anxiety is still through the roof.
Luckily, my kids are too little to really understand what’s going on out there or for it to impact them. I’m a total pro at putting my phone away around them, keeping some sense of normalcy going and being really upbeat. And of course, I’ve been using the situation to hammer home the handwashing 101 lesson. But many parents with older children are wondering how to explain COVID-19 to kids. Here are some top tips.
1. Explain Covid-19 to kids in a way they’ll understand
You know the drill: adapt your language to make it appropriate for your child’s age. Jennifer Rodemeyer, manager of the Child Life Program at Mayo Clinic, suggests starting your conversation by asking your child what they think coronavirus is. “This gives you an understanding of what your children know, think they know or how they interpret the illness,” she says. Some key points to talk about:
Covid-19: Explain that it’s a virus that makes people feel sick, and how the virus gets into our bodies. Use it as a great opportunity to instil proper hygiene and how we should avoid touching our faces. Jennifer also suggests informing children that we’re hearing so much about coronavirus because it’s new and hasn’t been seen before, before ending on a positive: that experts are working really hard to learn about it and keep us safe.
Quarantine: Discuss how people who are sick are being asked to remain in quarantine, and what that means.
Social distancing: Chat about what this means – how people shouldn’t come into close contact with each other, and should stay home as much as possible. “Pretend there’s a bike separating you and the person you are standing by, and keep that distance away from people,” explains Jennifer. “And instead of giving high-fives, fist bumps or hugs to people outside your family, smile and wave hello.”
2. Limit or stop older kids’ access to news and social media regarding Covid-19
Forget the kids: I need to do this myself! There’s so much conflicting information out there that it’s hard to know what to believe – and it doesn’t do our wellbeing any favours. “Explain to your children that there are many conflicting resources regarding the coronavirus and so you’re going to monitor and limit their access to media at this time,” advises Jennifer. And of course, feel free to set their minds at ease that you will share any information you learn that they need to know. “Use reliable sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and Mayo Clinic to gather your facts,” she adds.
3. Handwash, handwash, handwash
The best thing we can do when explaining Covid-19 to our kids is teaching them the importance of good hand-washing. We’ve created a handy illustration to practise along to, and be sure to keep scrubbing for 30 seconds. Find a song or part of a favourite song that you can sing together that fits that time window perfectly.
4. Explain why events are being cancelled
“Young children may see cancelling an event, a family vacation or going to the movies as a result of something they did wrong,” says Jennifer. “Remind them that the reason you’re unable to attend is to help prevent the spread of Covid-19.”
5. Remind your children to listen to caregivers
Whether it’s in relation to your helper, a teacher or you, reinforce to your children how important it is to follow instructions. What they are told about covering their mouths, social distancing and washing their hands, for instance, is all to help keep them safe.
6. Stick to routines
We all know kids thrive off structure and routine, so keep it going as much as possible during the Covid-19 situation to help kids feel in control. “Use a whiteboard or paper to display a daily schedule at home and identify clear expectations for the day to encourage kids to feel accomplished,” suggests Jennifer.
7. Keep playing!
“As a family, take advantage of being asked to stay home and practise social distancing: play games, complete puzzles, read books, listen and play music, dance, take family hikes, and work on an art project together,” says Jennifer. Yes, it’s a cruddy and scary world out there, but this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make wonderful memories together and bond as a family unit. We’ve got loads of ideas on how to make your own at-home-in-iso fun, as well as best retro games, craft tutorials and best educational sites and apps to enjoy.
8. Stay connected with loved ones
With the older population being one of the most at-risk groups from coronavirus, we’re encouraged to stay away from many of our loved ones. We already appreciate how awesome and important grandparents are for our kids, so be sure to connect with them via regular video or phone chats. “This will help children not feel as isolated as they continue to maintain and build relationships with their loved ones,” says Jennifer. “Virtual connections are also a way to support their social development by interacting with others.” If you’re wondering how to explain Covid-19 to kids in this instance, share how we need to protect our older family members as the virus can be more harmful to them.
9. Reassure your child if they are scared of getting sick
It’s our worst fear, but we need to be strong and calm with this one. And it’s important to be honest. “Being honest with your children builds trust,” says Jennifer. “As a parent, it may go against your instinct to want to share the truth because you may feel what you are sharing could cause fear, worry, anxiety or sadness.
“Remind them that you or someone who is caring for them will keep a close watch on their body at all times, and that you will be in close contact with your medical care provider if you feel medical advice is needed.”
10. Know someone who’s sick?
Again, it’s all about reassurance when explaining Covid-19 to kids. Tell your children that the person in question is getting medical advice on how to help their body and that they are in the best place. You may also want to consider sending a note, poem, story or picture to help cheer up any loved ones. “This is a way of letting the recovering person know they are being thought of and a way for your children to feel they are helping by bringing joy into their day,” advises Jennifer.
Above all, if you’re wondering how to explain Covid-19 to kids, keep the conversation going, and only share with them the things you think they really need to know. Show them you are calm and informed.
“As a caregiver, you are your children’s biggest support and advocate,” says Jennifer. “You can make a significant difference in how your children cope through this ever-changing experience.”
Top image: Markus Spiske