How to have the COVID conversation with kids

It’s almost a year since COVID threw the curveball at us. Although we’ve all developed our own coping mechanisms to get on with the virus among us, we know there are times when we feel fatigued by it all. So, no surprises when we sometimes see children feign blissful ignorance and switch back to their carefree old ways.

However, as much as we want them to stay cautious, we don’t want to fuel their elaborate imaginations and have them weaving up horrifying stories in their head.

Here is a look at what the experts say about talking to kids about the coronavirus.

Start by finding out how much they already know

The children might already have a vague idea of the virus by now. However as most of the information they have would be coloured by stories they hear at school or from friends, it’s best to start by asking what your child already knows about the coronavirus, and clarify things as needed. If you have your own questions, turn to reliable sources such as the World Health Organisation’s website.

Do not dodge questions you don’t have an answer for

With conflicting information all around, it is perfectly okay not to have answers for all their questions. According to the Child Mind Institute, it’s important to try and be comfortable saying ‘I don’t know’ rather than telling them things will be fine when you aren’t sure yourself. Teaching children how to deal with uncertainty is crucial to help them deal with anxiety and build resilience.

Make sure the information is developmentally appropriate

Be wary of bombarding them with too much information as it may be overwhelming. Try to think about what your child absolutely needs to know, such as what the virus is and what to do about it.

There are several age-appropriate storybooks which discuss the subject in relatable ways for the different age groups. ‘You are my hero’, by the United Nations Agencies, is a great children’s book explain how children can keep themselves and their families safe themselves from the virus and how to manage their difficult emotions when faced with the new and rapidly changing reality. The book is available as a free downloadable and as an audiobook.

Bring the spotlight on what you are doing to stay safe

There is no better way to get things on board a new idea than by leading by example. Remind them how important it is to wash their hands to stop the virus from spreading.   Get them involved when you are selecting the masks for the family. Assign them as gatekeepers to check if everyone has their gloves and sanitisers before heading out of the house.

Keep the conversation going

With so much still unknown about the virus, let them know mum and dad will keep them updated as they learn more. As clinical psychologist, Dr Jacqueline Sperling says, ‘We will all have a range of emotions – exasperated one day, sad the next, maybe hopeful the next day – as we try to navigate the ever-evolving times’. The children are no different.  Talk to your children regularly about how they are feeling, the changes and more and make the most of the situation by offering some support and making them feel heard.