Ruth Hawkins and Lorinda Gamlin

How should I talk to my child about Covid-19?

Boardman, Hawkins & Osborne LLP

Top tips to help parents.

Much of this is based on an article published last week by UNICEF Australia, but I have also given it my ‘take’ and also sought some input from Lorinda Gamlin, one of our associated counsellors. 

This current crisis is totally unprecedented and is scary enough for us adults.  But how must our children be feeling?  Whilst they are in school, teachers will no doubt be doing an absolutely amazing job at keeping the children appropriately informed, and calm and reassured.  But after today, all those children apart from those in essential services or from vulnerable families, will be off school, and mostly (and very likely) contained at home.  

So how best should we comfort and protect our children? 

It is really easy to be overwhelmed by what we’re experiencing at the moment, and children’s and young people’s anxiety levels must be really high.  It’s hard for us adults to offer them much in the way of reassurance, as we’ve not experienced anything like this ourselves. And yet, it is important as parents and carers that we do what we can to reassure. 

Having an open, honest discussion with your child is one way of helping them understand and cope with the current crisis. 

  1. Ask open questions and listen.  Ask your child to talk about what is happening. Find out what they already know.  A lot depends on their age, but you can start by dealing with the simple things like basic hygiene, washing hands etc. 
  2. Be honest about what’s going on. But be appropriate. Children have the right to know what is going on but adults have the responsibility to explain it in a way that avoids distress. Use age appropriate language. Watch their reactions. And be sensitive about their levels of anxiety. 
  3. Show them how to protect themselves.  Schools, and media have done lots of this over the last few weeks, but keep encouraging handwashing, and sensible behaviour. If they develop symptoms, make sure they know to cough into their elbow or a tissue, and to dispose of the tissue quickly. 
  4. Offer reassurance. The TV and social media is full of really distressing images and information, and we as adults find it hard enough to deal with.  Children may worry that they’re in imminent danger. Make sure you allow plenty of times for play and relaxation, and family time. Now that the majority of us are working from home, with our children already with us, or about to join us, we all need plenty of ‘down time’ and now might be the time to ensure we all have some structure to our days over the coming weeks. 
  5. Remember to tell your child that if people around them become ill, that doesn’t necessarily mean they will, and even if they do, it’s likely that they won’t become really unwell. If your child becomes ill, reassure them that their symptoms are likely to be mild and treatable and are likely to subside and they will recover.
  6. Look after yourself. Remember that when you’re on a plane, the safety information always tells us to put our own oxygen mask on before helping others. We cannot care if we are too unwell! 
  7. Also try and remain calm yourself as your child will pick up on your own stress and anxiety.
  8. Finish the conversation with care, and don’t end it leaving your child distressed. Remind your child they can talk to you about what is happening at any time.
  9. Remember children are easily distracted and so any information can be shared with them in short easily digested pieces, and given as and when needed, to reinforce the initial piece of information.  A ‘drip-drip approach’. 
  10. One great tip I saw this week, shared by the comedian and actor Jason Manford, was drawing a smiley face on both sides of your child’s hands in pen, and saying they need to wash their hands clean of the smiley faces by the end of the day. In other words, have some fun with this, as well as reinforcing the serious side of things. Use bubbles, or other things to make it all fun.  Nice smelly soaps would also be great.  

Ruth Hawkins, Partner and Lorinda Gamlin, Counsellor


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