How to talk to your kids about COVID-19

COVID-19 is a rapidly developing crisis, which is affecting our daily lives in unprecedented ways – the uncertainty bringing fear and an undercurrent of anxiety.

But if adults struggle to grasp and react to the constant developments, how do children begin to understand what COVID-19 is and what it means for them?

If questions are being asked in your households, the Telethon Kids Institute has provided a guide to help families navigate the crisis and explain changes it’s bringing to your children.

Be honest but age-appropriate

Don’t pretend it’s not happening because children, too, need to be changing their behaviours (e.g. extra handwashing).

Teach kids how germs are spread and how we can help to stop them from spreading.

Keep it simple, age-appropriate and always keep the message as positive as possible in terms of what the world is doing to try to stop the virus ­– that the world’s best scientists are working hard to understand the virus and to develop a vaccine.

Keep calm

Ask questions and find out what your kids know; what they’re hearing in the playground.

Then address any fear or misinformation that may be circulating around.

Maintain as much normality in the house and daily life as possible. Stick to routines as much as you can as routines and daily structures can promote a feeling of certainty.

Encourage positive action

Empower kids to help stop the spread through proper handwashing. Teach kids to sneeze/cough into their elbow and away from other people and to always wash their hands afterwards.

Remind them to eat healthy foods and get enough sleep to keep healthy.

Work through their disappointment

Many school and sporting events are being cancelled/postponed. Talk with them openly about any disappointment they may be feeling and use it as an opportunity to build resilience.

Get innovative

Kids may not be able to spend time with older relatives so make the most of technology by encouraging video calling.

Make it fun and help them understand that they are keeping their loved ones safe by staying away temporarily.

Be on alert for anxious behaviour   

Some children may be naturally anxious and COVID-19 may push them further towards panic. Signs this might be happening include:

  • Trouble sleeping or excessive fatigue.
  • Loss of appetite or sudden overeating.
  • Excessive worry, tiredness, clingy behaviour.
  • Sore tummy or other physical symptoms.
  • Difficulty concentrating, irritability.
  • Social withdrawal.

If you believe that your child (or yourself) is overwhelmed by the COVID-19 situation, seek help from your healthcare professional.

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