The KidNuz Team shares your dilemma: How much do we tell our kids about the Coronavirus? The story has been percolating for weeks. Now, it's the subject of wall-to-wall coverage, doomsday predictions and unsettling graphics. As a rule, little ears and eyes always hear and see more than we would like them to. And right now, that includes images of people wearing masks, a desensitizing victim count, quarantines and entire communities on lockdown.
It was the talk at school, even before states made the unprecedented decision to ring the bell and send millions of kids home until who knows when. Now there's no school, and no after school. Sports, theater, robotics, playdates - all called off. We're left to help them navigate their new normal, all while we stockpile hand sanitizer and toilet paper, and side-eye anyone who dares sniff, sneeze or cough. They can't help but notice.
And they can't help but worry. It’s important to know they have little space, time or geographic awareness, so without some well-timed parental reassurance or explanation, what starts as a small concern on their part has the potential to morph into an irrational, but to them very real, threat to themselves and their family. As with a lot of things, less is more. A little information, a little at a time, will go a long way towards easing their fears.
We reached out to pediatrician Dr. Alice Brock-Utne to figure out how and where to begin:
1. With time. Try to talk to them when you aren’t in a hurry. This chat could take awhile and half an explanation, or a rushed one, might be worse than none.
2. Let them lead the conversation. What have they heard?
3. Stay positive! Reassure them that you are healthy, the family is healthy and that doctors are working hard to help the sick get better and the healthy stay that way.
4. Let them know a bar (or squirt!) of soap is their new best friend. Hand washing should be done as often as possible, and should last at least as long as the birthday song. I recommend that parents remind their kids not to touch their face at all when they are at school and, if they have to, to wash their hands first. Students should also use sanitizer or wash their hands every time they leave or change classes.
5. Remind them not to share drinks or food with classmates.
6. Stick to the facts: Very few kids have contracted the coronavirus. In fact, it’s a medical mystery as to why. Those who do, typically only have mild symptoms. As for the rest of us, most won’t get sick at all, but if they, too, are among the unfortunate few, the symptoms will likely mimic a cold or flu - and they'll bounce right back. The most vulnerable are people who might have been sick even before they got COVID-19.
7. Empower them to help keep elderly relatives from getting sick by washing their hands and staying home if they’ve got a runny nose or fever.
8. If your kids see someone in a mask - and they probably will -, their natural reaction might be fear: that person has the virus! Reassure them that, in all likelihood, they don’t. They wouldn’t be out and about and they’re just being extra cautious.
Most importantly, remind them to be kind. Regardless of where it started, this virus is not specific to any one group of people and just because someone looks like they may be from Asia or have relatives there, that is no reason to make them feel bad, or make jokes about the virus. They are no more likely to get it, or share it, than anyone else.
In Good Health!
The KidNuz Team