As adults attempt to make sense of the Coronavirus pandemic, take a moment to think about how difficult it is for children to get their heads around this new ‘normality’. Knowing how to talk to children about coronavirus has become an urgent and significant parenting challenge.
How to talk to children about Coronavirus
The task facing parents is how to make our children feel safe even when we do not feel safe. It will sound very obvious, but the starting point is to listen to our children.
Let them express their fears over Coronavirus. Encourage them to talk about what they know about the pandemic and what it makes them think and feel.
Try to view the situation from a child’s perspective. This will be tough, especially if you are already worried about issues like income, job security or elderly relatives. But it will make a difference in your ability to help them.
Parents: What does your child need right now?
For example, not seeing friends at school could feel like the end of the world to a child. Though this might seem insignificant to an adult, we need to understand that it can trigger powerful emotions in children.
Based on their response parents can decide how to talk to their children about Coronavirus. Broadly, ask yourself this question when speaking to kids about Coronavirus: what does my child need?
Reassure and validate their feelings about Coronavirus
Many children will need to be reassured about the unsettling emotions they are experiencing.
It is important that adults normalise and validate these feelings. Simply telling kids ‘not to be scared’ can make them believe their feelings are not normal and cause greater anxiety.
Instead, they need to know that it is ok to feel frightened right now. As parents, we need to accept their feelings of fear and recognise them by using phrases like: “I can hear that you are scared and that’s ok” or “I know this is scary, but it won’t last forever.”
Children may also need some reassurance about the health of loved ones, especially older generations. Parents can turn potentially destructive worry into positive action by explaining how a child can play their part in ‘protecting’ gran and grandpa.
Emphasise that regular hand washing, staying home, using tissues for coughs and avoiding meeting friends helps protect people like gran and grandpa.
Help children separate the Coronavirus facts from fiction
Children today are more information aware than ever before. Many of them could be experiencing greater feelings of anxiety right now because they are unsure who and what to believe. At this time, it is important that adults help them separate truth from the myths surrounding Coronavirus.
Assure them that they are safe, and sickness usually has less of an impact on children. Explain that they are staying home to protect older relatives/friends and that in doing their part, the virus can be stopped, and life can go back to normal quicker.
Coping strategies for Coronavirus anxiety
For some children, the safety and security of a hug might be enough to help calm their fears. But it can be helpful to work on some coping strategies as well for more difficult times or more sensitive children.
Deep breathing exercises and guided meditation for kids are great tools to promote mindfulness. Mindfulness is the act of being present in the moment and can help children move their focus away from worrying about ‘what ifs’ in the future.
Creating a comfort box for your child can also be beneficial as it offers an effective tool against anxiety. Packed with favourite blankets, toys, pictures of happy memories and the like, it can be useful for particularly difficult moments. You can read our guide to making a comfort box at home on our website.
Counselling services from The Spark
The Spark continues to provide telephone and online video counselling services during the Coronavirus outbreak. These services are available to adults, children and young people.
Dee Barker Creggan
Counsellor - Children and Young People at The Spark
Dee is a member of the British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapists and a Children and Young People Counsellor with The Spark. She primarily works with young people in Secondary schools in Scotland. Dee’s psychotherapy interests include attachment difficulties, low mood, anxiety, and young people who face social, emotional and behavioural challenges.