On March 11, the World Health Organization classified the Coronavirus outbreak as a global pandemic. It’s likely to remain prominent in the news for weeks or months to come, and many adults are seeking advice for talking with children about Coronavirus.
Even young children can be surprisingly aware of things going on in the adult world, though their limited understanding can lead to big misperceptions and unspoken fears that can affect their behavior and social-emotional well-being.
The Association for Child Psychoanalysis offers these guidelines to help therapists, parents and children alike:
- While there are reasons to be concerned, know that there are very few cases of the Coronavirus in our state and country at the present. Everyone is working hard to be sure very few people get the virus, and that all those who are ill, get the help they need.
- It is important to keep in mind that comparatively few children have tested positive for the virus, and deaths in children are very rare.
Let children know that for most people, the Corona virus is like a regular cold, and they get better quickly when they get the proper care. Young children are really safer. People who have other illnesses and older people have a greater risk of getting sicker with Coronavirus. Less than 1% of all cases in the world are in children below the age of 9.
- Be there and be calm: Ask children what they know and what they have heard. Listen to the child’s story, follow the child’s lead, and be reassuring about the ways that you will take care of them. Use simple language and correct any misunderstood accounts.
- Above all, know very young children respond more to your emotions, gestures and tone of voice – even more than your words – although your words are important.
- Limit repeated exposure to images and reports about the Coronavirus. When children do see images or reports about the virus, FredRogers of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood would have suggested that we help them “look for all the people who are helping.”
- Tell a child what they need to know, not all that you know. For example, say something like, “Some people are sick and being cared for. You are safe and we are doing all the things to keep us healthy like washing our hands, and covering our mouths when we cough or sneeze.”
- Remember to take care of yourself; If the adults in a child’s life are overwhelmed, overstressed and overtired, it will be more difficult to be safe, secure and stable for the child.