How to talk to children about COVID-19 (AKA Coronavirus)
Whilst what we do currently is mainly based around championing bravery and self-belief in young girls, this week's blog is very much for everyone that needs a little support. Being in schools these past few weeks has been full of its usual ups and downs but with the Coronavirus being very much front and centre in the news, in our communities and in our schools, I just want to share some of the thing I have noticed and some of my thoughts on how we can support our children through this.
Have you noticed that children are reacting to the Coronavirus in very different ways? Over the past couple of weeks, I have chatted with so many children that have brought this up. Some are taking the message of washing your hands so seriously that their hands are becoming red, dry and sore. Some children are finding it difficult to sleep because they are so worried about family and friends. And then there are the children that are making the best of the situation and making up games such as Coronavirus Tig! So, this is how this particular game works - if you are touched by one of the ‘infected’ children, you have to act ill and then go into the isolation box. I imagine there are a lot of different reactions from adults to this game.
So why am I talking about Coronavirus? The NHS and WHO will continue to keep us informed of the facts around the Coronavirus of which you can find, here. I have no more medical information or knowledge about it than the next person but talking to children about difficult subjects is something I do know something about.
Over the past few years, our children have been exposed to and affected by many different ‘scary’ situations. Children spoke to me about their fears after the bombing at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, the numerous attacks on our capital and beyond, and floods that have threatened their sense of safety in their own homes to name but a few. Although all of these situations are different, the way we talk to our children about these is the same.
These are the types of things I consider when talking to children about difficult or worrying situations.
Be as honest about the situation as you can, keeping in mind the age of the children. When our children feel they don’t have enough information to process what is going on around them, they often attempt to fill the gaps for themselves. This is when their anxiety can rise, as quite often what children can imagine is much worse than the reality of the situation.
Ask them open questions to find out what they already know and what their worries are. Encourage them to question what they have heard or seen. This will help them to develop critical thinking and feel more in control of the situation.
Encourage open dialogue about what is going on but try not to make it the focus of all conversations. It is important to remember that as adults we are the barometer for our children’s feelings, they will pick up how we manage ourselves in the situation so it is important to stay calm and let common sense prevail.
Accept that you don’t have all of the answers and explain this to them. Try to reassure them that the people that need to have all of the answers will pass on what we need to know.
Avoid telling them, not to worry. As adults, it is a natural state to try to take away worry from children but in doing this we risk dismissing their feelings and making it seem they are wrong to have them. Another approach is to acknowledge and address the feeling, ‘I can see you are worried by this, why don’t we talk about it to see if we can make your worries smaller.’
As our children have so much access to information, remind them that not everything they see or read will be accurate, and a lot of what they see will be an opinion or just plain wrong. Calmly remind them of your trust in doctors, and that real answers can be found, here.
It is important to remember that the time we invest in addressing these difficult issues with our children will support them in future situations and enable them to confront them with knowledge, compassion and a strength of character.
Stay mindful that children process information in different ways and although ‘Coronavirus tig’ may make you want to cringe, please remember that children’s language is play and this game is a harmless process.
Look for positives - although not every cloud has a silver lining, what we learn about ourselves and how we can manage difficulties can be a real positive for the future.
During these challenging times, please remember to look out for everyone around you. For further information about COVID-19, please head to the NHS website, here. If you would like any support or advice on speaking to your children/pupils about their concerns, please get in touch and I'll do my best to help.