How to Talk to Kids About Coronavirus

By now, your children may have heard about the new coronavirus, whether it’s from a snippet of a news briefing or from other kids at school. They may have family members who have been quarantined here because of recent international travel, or they may even know someone who is sick. So what should you tell kids about the coronavirus, and how?

Assess what your child knows

Dr. Heard-Garris said that you should start the conversation by asking what your child has heard about the virus. If they’ve heard that people all over the world are dying, and the Grim Reaper is coming for us, too, that’s a very different conversation than if they’ve just heard it’s like the flu, Dr. Heard-Garris said.

Process your own anxiety first

Make sure “you’re not panicking in their presence around the topic,” said Dunya Poltorak, Ph.D., a pediatric medical psychologist in private practice in Birmingham, Mich. “Your demeanor is going to stir this massive pot of anxiety.” So try to process any fears you may have before you talk to your children, whether it’s by talking to a friend, a partner or a therapist.  your children, whether it’s by talking to a friend, a partner or a therapist. “We don’t want our children to feel like the world is so scary,” said Dr. Gewirtz, because that might keep them from being curious and engaged.

Don’t dismiss your child’s fears

If your child is afraid because some kid on the bus told him he might die, that’s a real fear and you should take it seriously, Dr. Gewirtz said. If you simply tell the child, “You’ll be fine,” they might not feel heard. “Listen to them and track what the child is feeling,” she said. You can say something in a calm voice like, “That sounds pretty scary, I can see it in your face.” You can also relay an anecdote from your own childhood about a time when you were scared. Then, after the child has calmed down, perhaps over dinner, you can bring up coronavirus again.

Emphasize good hygiene

Make sure your kids are washing their hands for at least 20 seconds before and after meals, after they go to the bathroom, after they come in from outside and after they’ve blown their nose or put their hands in their mouth, said Dr. Rebecca Pellett Madan, M.D., a pediatric infectious disease specialist at N.Y.U. Langone’s Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital. Children should sing “Happy Birthday” twice to know how long to wash their hands, and then make sure they are drying them thoroughly.

Frame school closures as a positive

Dr. Poltorak recommended saying something like, “There’s lots of icky bugs going around and we’re going to hang tight at home so they can clean the schools out.” Try to frame it as a positive — more time at home where we can have fun! — rather than something to fear, especially among the youngest children. Matloff also suggested preparing now for potential closures by shopping for new games, books and arts and crafts supplies.

SOURCE: Grose, Jessica. “How to Talk to Kids About Coronavirus.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 13 Mar. 2020, parenting.nytimes.com/childrens-health/coronavirus-kids-talk?module=ptg-onsite-share&type=link.

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