How to talk to kids about COVID-19 pandemic

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – INTEGRIS is helping parents and guardians talk to kids about the COVID-19 pandemic and the emotions they may feel from self isolation.

Fear, hope, sadness, anger, anxiety, gratitude, exhaustion, and optimism are just some emotions one may feel.

Here are some helpful tips, guidelines and resources to help children understand the virus.

Don’t be afraid of talking to children about COVID-19

Children have already heard about it and are talking about it. Families have adopted their ‘new normal,’ which means no school for kids, parents working from home, sheltering in place and social distancing. It may also mean having parents who are on the front lines fighting the pandemic, either in a medical field, or in keeping our food, safety or mail systems working. The point? Kids know something is up, so it’s a good idea to address it. Plus, not talking about it can make it seem even worse.

You are their fact filter

Your goal should be to give children enough age-appropriate information to feel better and understand what’s happening. Stick with the facts and be reassuring. Be age appropriate and let your child/children help guide the conversation. Don’t volunteer too much information; instead, try to answer your child’s questions. Answer honestly and clearly, and if you don’t know, say so. It’s the connection and communication that are most important. 

Reassure them

Reassure your child/children about the things that may make them feel better. Explain that simply washing their hands is a great preventive measure.

Quarantine your anxiety before you talk with your children

That moment when your anxiety, fear and worry are peaking is not the moment to talk with children about the coronavirus. Instead, wait until you can be calm and reassuring. Children react to both what you say and how you say it.  

Teach children how to reduce the spread of germs

Here are some tips from the CDC:

  • Remind children to stay away from people who are coughing or sneezing or sick.
  • Remind them to cough or sneeze into a tissue or their elbow, then throw the tissue into the trash.
  • Teach them to wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after blowing their nose, coughing, or sneezing; going to the bathroom; and before eating or preparing food.
  • If soap and water are not available, teach them to use hand sanitizer. Hand sanitizer should contain at least 60% alcohol. Supervise young children when they use hand sanitizer to prevent swallowing alcohol.

And here are a five more tips from Childmind.org to help you help your little ones.

1. Stick to routine. 

People don’t like uncertainty, so staying rooted in routines and predictability is going to be helpful right now. Make sure you are taking care of the basics just like you would during a spring break or summer vacation. Structured days with regular mealtimes and bedtimes are an essential part of keeping kids happy and healthy.

2. Keep talking.

Tell kids that you will continue to keep them updated as you learn more. Let them know that the lines of communication are going to be open. You can say, “Even though we don’t have the answers to everything right now, know that once we know more, mom or dad will let you know.”

3. Make yourself available to listen.

Be sure children know they can come to you when they have questions and give them time to express what they are feeling. 

4. Avoid language that might blame others and lead to stigma.

Avoid making assumptions about who might have COVID-19.

5. Pay attention to what children see or hear on television, radio or online.

Consider reducing the amount of screen time focused on COVID-19. Too much information on one topic can lead to anxiety.

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