As much as we try to shelter young children from the stress and anxiety we may be feeling as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is nigh on impossible to do so with the intense media saturation and significant day-to-day impacts communities are feeling. Children have found themselves spending more time at home, not seeing their family and friends, no longer participating in activities like swimming or dance, or even just going to the local playground. For many families, changes are more complex and significant.
It can be hard to know the best way to manage information at times like this, how best to talk about the subject with children, or if we should at all. Even if we choose not to talk directly about the pandemic with children, they are likely to have recognised the changes and limitations that are occurring in their lives, and may also be overhearing or exposed to snippets of information. It is important to recognise that children do not have the same ability to understand and rationalise the reasons behind limitations placed on us at this time, and that children’s ability to co-regulate or self-regulate is highly dependent on the level of stress their special people are feeling.
Emerging Minds is an Australian childhood mental health advocacy organisation, who have released some suggestions for talking about COVID-19 with children. Some of their key suggestions are listed below, and you can read more here and here. As with all resources, it is important to take into account your child’s age, understanding, and specific family context.
- Create time and space on a regular basis for children to ask questions, but don’t force them to talk if they don’t want to
- Maintain routines and rituals as possible – continuing traditions, or altering them to suit the current restrictions, may comfort and reassure children
- Celebrate newfound free time created by cancelled events to make new experiences, such as daily walks, sharing a meal, or having extra stories
- Be conscious of how you talk about COVID-19 – don’t be flippant or catastrophise
- Communicate hope by talking about the actions that are being taken to prepare, to stay safe and to recover. Talk to children about what is happening in the community, what families are doing at home and ways that they can help
- Limit children’s exposure to media coverage about COVID-19 – sit with them to explain what’s happening and how it affects you
- Make sure you are using reliable sources of information such as the Department of Health, Health Direct, and UNICEF. Correct any misinformation children may receive
- Provide comfort, reassurance and support if they’re upset or feeling scared
- Give young children time to play – it’s time they use to work through their feelings
- Find ways to keep children connected with loved ones that might be unable to be close to them due to self-isolation, work or illness, such as video calls
- Before you start a conversation with a child, check in with yourself. Are you ready to talk about this? Are you prepared for questions that might come? Do you have enough accurate information? And importantly, do you have your own worries, concerns or anxiety about these events?
The Australian Red Cross has also put together some great suggestions for talking with children about COVID-19. You can find them here.