The current situation regarding the worldwide pandemic of COVID-19 and Coronavirus is a deeply concerning time for everyone. No one is sure what is going to come next, or how families or indeed communities will cope. We do know that the majority of people who are infected with the disease are going to make a full recovery. Nonetheless, world leaders have made it clear that the virus will mean significant changes to our lives, at least in the short term. These will almost certainly include “social distancing” measures such as:
- The closure of schools, childcare and universities
- Cancellation of large events
- Restrictions on travel or other activities
Inevitably, children and young people will hear rumours about these actions. Children, who are often less capable of critical thinking than adults may be more likely to believe hearsay or false information. This applies to information about the virus itself and the measures that will be taken to combat it.
What can parents do to address their children’s concerns?
Even after the current pandemic, it is important that parents can talk to their children and young people about major crises like this in the future. This article will give advice to parents about how to reassure children, even when you do not have all the answers yourself.
The World Health Organisation has put out the following advice for parents:
- Respond to your child’s concerns in a supportive way. This is a time when they will need more love, reassurance and attention
- Maximise time for children to play and relax
- Keep your children close to you physically if you can (but do not break quarantine or self-isolation)
- If you cannot be physically present with children, use technology like video calls and phones to stay in regular contact
- Keep a regular routine, even if your “normal” is disrupted
- Be honest with your children regarding information. Focus on age-appropriate information about what they can do to reduce risk
At Parenting NI, we regularly advise parents that the best way to help your children, your families and yourself is communication. Fear often stems from a lack of understanding and knowledge, and talking is the best way to address this. All communication with children and young people should be age appropriate, but our advice for parents during this pandemic and future public health emergencies is to:
- Talk to your child. Find out what, specifically, they are concerned with. Are they worried about themselves? About you? Perhaps they understand certain people (like grandparents) are more at risk
- Once you understand what they are worried about, you can better reassure them. There is no need to lie or pretend that there is no risk whatsoever. Instead, calmly explain the facts – that most people will be okay – and that the people in charge are doing their best
- Focus on what they can control. Speak to them about hand washing, coughing into elbows and avoiding unneeded physical contact (but don’t refuse cuddles unless one of you in unwell)
Young children may not fully understand why certain actions are important. Some resources might be useful depending on the age and stage of your child. These address the pandemic in a fun or at least less frightening way. These include:
A very catchy song (in Vietnamese) which has spread widely about washing your hands
@britishredcross🖐🤚 + 💧+ 🎂🎵 @who ##coronavirus ##foryou ##foryoupage ##fyp♬ Happy Birthday (Samba Version) – Karaoke – Best Instrumentals
Our Parenting Champion, Alliance Belfast City Councillor Sian Mulholland has tweeted a fun experiment with her son to show how soap and washing our hands protects us from germs
— Sian Mulholland (@sianalliance) March 14, 2020
While the exact measures taken in every country will be different, some advice is applicable no matter where you are. The Irish Department of Health has provided a useful and easy to read guide on talking to children about the pandemic, which is available here. One of the key points in this advice is ensuring that children can differentiate between baseless scaremongering rumour and genuine advice. It may be helpful to review our article on fighting ‘fake news’ if this is something you are worried about!
Time at home
Inevitably, children will have to spend more time at home as a result of this pandemic. Schools may be closed, and normal activities such as sport and youth groups will be cancelled. This might result in concerns among parents. Some schools will provide online/take home work, and depending on your area they may have digital classrooms. Remember to liaise with your school, talk to the teachers and the principal to find out what their current plans are, but be aware that these may change at a rapid pace.
If parents are concerned about children spending a significant amount of time at home, try to establish a routine. Reading books, perhaps rented from local libraries if they are still open, or downloaded if possible can be a useful substitute for normal educational behaviour in the event of an emergency. Playing board games, getting outdoors as often as you can and spending family time together is also important.
Looking after yourself
Equally however, parents must remember that these are very unusual circumstances. Normal rules do not necessarily need to apply. Do not be too harsh on yourself if children spend more time on screens than usual. In fact many useful resources may be found online which may be helpful for them during this time. Do not over worry about educational outcomes at the moment, and understand that every child will be in the same boat. Parents and families will already be under immense stress, and it’s important to look after your own emotional health and well-being.
Remember to take care of yourself as a parent, as well as of your children. There is no reason to panic unduly, and remember that how you react is likely to have a direct impact on how your children will react. If you remain calm, but take reasonable precautions, your children are less likely to feel anxious or concerned.