31 March 2020

How to talk about coronavirus with children - Cloned

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News of the coronavirus pandemic is everywhere in the media and on TV, and children across the UK have been affected by school and nursery closures and social distancing measures. When discussing coronavirus in the home, it’s important to do so in the right way to avoid causing feelings of anxiety or panic and to explain how they can help to protect themselves and others at this time. Here are our top tips on communicating with children.

Don’t avoid discussing coronavirus

As many children will now be at home or, if their parents are key workers, they may be attending a different school or nursery with a new group of children, they will already know that something is going on. Children with complex healthcare issues will have been advised to stay at home for the next 12 weeks. Their usual routine has been disrupted considerably, and this may be the case for some time. 

It’s important to discuss the virus with them, because not talking about it may cause them to worry more. Your goal should be to help children feel informed by offering them an overview of key things such as: why social distancing is important and why people are self-isolating.

Explain how you’re staying safe

The day-to-day lives of children have changed drastically over the past few weeks. To keep households safe, children should be made aware of the additional personal hygiene measures that we are all adhering to to prevent the spread of the virus. A simple way to demonstrate the correct hand washing technique is to make use of the NHS guidance to wash hands for 20 seconds (the length of 2 rounds of the “Happy Birthday” song). For an example on why hand washing is so important, you can show them or do your own version of the “pepper and soap”, which recently went viral when it was demonstrated by an American school teacher on Instagram.

By explaining that this is a way for them to help protect themselves, and others, they will feel empowered to stick to it as much as they can.

In addition, they need to understand that some people are being extra cautious and wearing face masks and gloves at this time - this is likely something they haven’t seen before.

Be prepared to answer their questions and discuss their feelings

Whether you’re a parent or a professional carer, if a child gives cues that they may want to talk about the virus and how they feel, you should let them. 

Vanessa van Meensel, a paediatric nurse specialist at Newcross’ Barnstaple branch says: 

“Giving children the opportunity to ask questions, and get them answered by an adult rather than a friend, will ensure that the information they are getting is factual and less likely to cause anxiety. We should allow children to express themselves now, more than ever, and let them know that we are always there for them to do so in a safe and encouraging environment.

Keep calm and carry on with your routine

It’s understandable for you to feel anxious or panicked about the pandemic. However, when you feel this way, it’s best not to discuss these feelings with your child, or the children in your care. Save those conversations to a time when you’re feeling calm and composed. You should carry on with your routine, as much as it is possible and safe to do so, in adherence to the government’s social distancing guidelines.

Children need to be reassured throughout this pandemic, particularly as it is a fast-moving situation and the government’s recommendations are subject to change. Ensure that they understand that this pandemic will end, that children are not a high risk group, and their normal life will resume at some point in the future.

Free download - Covibook

To support this communication, Manuela Molina, a child psychologist, has created Covibook. This downloadable book is targeted at children under the age of 7. Molina recommends that you print the resource out and allow children to draw on it while you read it to them to digest the messages. Feel free to download here and print out this resource and use as you see fit.

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