It's natural to try and protect children from any stress or anxiety they may experience due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this doesn’t mean we should avoid talking to them about how they may be feeling at this time.
Children pick up on cues from a number of sources, whether it be the playground, social media, the mood or behaviour of adults around them, or simply from seeing empty supermarket shelves or people wearing masks. Talking to children in an age appropriate and reassuring way to provide them with factual information will help alleviate their anxiety.
Here are some tips:
Know the facts
- Make sure you are basing your discussions on relevant and credible sources such as the World Health Organisation or the Australian Government Department of Health's website at health.gov.au.
Choose the time (if you can)
- Make time to talk when you are not feeling stressed or anxious yourself. Being calm and reassuring while providing appropriate information will help children keep the information in perspective.
- You should also be ready for times when children are seeking reassurance, hanging around near you, becoming withdrawn or displaying extreme behaviours. Be available to them when possible and keep talking when needed.
- Use open questions. For example, instead of asking “Are you worried about the virus?’ try asking “What have you heard about the virus?” or situation specific questions like “How are you feeling about not going to school?”
- Actively listen to the child’s answers. Give them your full attention when they answer and observe their body language. Before the conversation ends, make sure the child is not distressed. Watch for signals such as being withdrawn. And make sure they know they can come to you at any time if they are worried.
Be age appropriate
- For very young children you may only need to discuss the importance of washing hands and sneezing and coughing into a tissue or their elbow.
- Ask them what they already know, don’t be dismissive of rumours they may have heard or worries that seem unfounded to you. It is normal to feel scared and providing valid age appropriate information will be reassuring.
- Give alternatives to ‘worst case’ thoughts.
- Give children the information they need to stay safe, and get involved in activities such as hand washing. Lead by example.
- You know your child best, they don’t need to know all the details. Use your judgement.
Focus on the positive
- What are the steps you are taking to reduce risk? Involve children so they feel empowered and part of the solution.
- Stay in contact via phone or video with elderly relatives they may be concerned about.
- What are some good news stories of people helping others in your community?
- Point out that there are many people across the world who are all working to get us through this time.
Limit screen time
- It is important to stay informed, but excessive exposure to the news or social media can heighten anxiety for all of us.
- Be alert to what media children are being exposed to, especially if it is not from a credible source.
- Remember that children will observe your own reactions to news as you receive it.
Be wary of stigma and bullying
- Sadly, children can be both the victims and perpetrators of bullying. Don’t allow the conversation to become about blame or fear of any one group. Like any virus, COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate.
If you are struggling to use these strategies, it can help to talk to someone. You can call Open Arms 24/7 on 1800 011 046. We're happy to have a chat about the different hints and ideas that might work for you and your family.