Talking about COVID-19
Talking with children about COVID-19 will help you and your children come together to make sense of how the virus is impacting on your family.
- Help children make sense of what they have been seeing, hearing and feeling.
- Promote hope by sharing information about the actions being taken in the community and at home to respond to COVID-19 and its implications.
Sharing accurate information and science-based facts about COVID-19 will help diminish children’s fears and anxieties around the disease and support their ability to cope with any secondary impacts in their lives.
Babies, toddlers and young children
Babies and toddlers aren’t likely to understand what is happening in the community, but they will notice changes in you and those closest to them. Changes that they are likely to notice include:
- changes in how you are feeling
- how distracted you are, and
- how you are responding to them.
To reassure the little ones through these changes:
- Try to maintain important daily routines so that you can spend regular time together (e.g. playing, stories, mealtimes).
- Limit having the television on while children are playing or in the room.
- Set up some of your own rituals to avoid being distracted by your phone or other devices when you are playing or spending time with your children.
- Find ways to keep children connected with friends and loved ones that they might be separated from such as video calling, sending photos by phone or creating artwork for them.
- Focus on communicating good health behaviours, such as covering coughs and sneezes with the elbow and washing hands.
One of the best ways to keep children safe from coronavirus and other diseases is to simply encourage regular handwashing, for at least 20 seconds. It doesn’t need to be a scary conversation. Sing along or dance to make learning fun.
Develop a way to track how children are washing their hands and find ways to reward them for frequent/timely hand washing.
Have children sit farther apart from one another by practicing stretching their arms out or ‘flapping their wings’ – they should keep enough space between each other so that they are not touching their friends.
Primary & Secondary school age
Make sure to listen to children’s concerns and answer their questions in an age appropriate manner. Don’t overwhelm them with too much information. Encourage them to express and communicate their feelings. Discuss the different feelings they may be experiencing and explain that these are normal reactions to an abnormal situation.
Emphasise that children can do a lot to keep themselves and others safe. For example, introduce the concept of social distancing (standing further away from friends, avoiding large crowds, not touching people if they don’t need to, etc.). Also, focus on good health behaviours, such as covering coughs and sneezes with the elbow and washing hands.
Help children understand the basic concepts of disease prevention and control. Use exercises that demonstrate how germs can spread. For example, you can put coloured water in a spray bottle and spray it on a piece of white paper, then observe how far the droplets travel.
Demonstrate why it’s so important to wash hands for 20 seconds with soap. For example, put a small amount of glitter in a student’s hands and have them wash them with just water and notice how much glitter remains. Then have them wash for 20 seconds with soap and water and see how the glitter is gone.
Have students analyse texts to identify high risk behaviours and suggest ways to change them. For example, a person goes to work with a cold. He sneezes and covers it with his hand. He shakes hands with a workmate. He wipes his hands afterwards with a handkerchief, then goes to the lunchroom for lunch. What did they do that was risky? What should he have done instead?
For older children
Encourage your older children to confront and prevent stigma. Discuss the reactions they may experience around discrimination, and explain that these are normal reactions in emergency situations. Encourage them to express and communicate their feelings, but also explain that fear and stigma make a difficult situation worse. Words matter, and using language that perpetuates existing stereotypes can drive people away from taking the actions they need to protect themselves.
Incorporate relevant health education into their studies. Science can cover the study of viruses, disease transmission and the importance of vaccinations. Social studies can focus on the history of pandemics and the evolution of policies on public health and safety.
Media literacy lessons can empower students to be critical thinkers and make them effective communicators and active citizens, which will improve their abilities to detect misinformation.
Finding reliable sources of information to help you respond
Select two to three trusted and reliable sources and familiarise yourself with information that can give you the up-to-date facts. Sticking to these sources means you don’t have to curate the misinformation, myths and rumours that are widespread and can cause you and your children additional worry.
How you feel matters too!
Most of us are worrying about what is happening – and that is okay. Give yourself permission and time to think about what is worrying you. In the short term, worry can be useful as it can help us focus our thinking on the challenges we are facing and plan how to respond.
It can be helpful to write down your worries and then think about the things you feel you can deal with now and the things you might need more information or support with.
It is also important to find ways to give yourself a break from worry and from thinking about what is happening. Your usual ways of relaxing are important for your wellbeing.
If you are struggling to relax, now might be the time to try out some new strategies such as getting outside, practising mindfulness or listening to music.
Free apps like the Smiling Mind (www.smilingmind.com.au/smiling-mind-app) are a great way to access short guided meditations and mindfulness techniques.
If your child is also worried you might like share what you find helpful.