How to speak to children about the coronavirus

Children and young people may be just as unsettled by the current situation as you are. We share advice on how to speak to them and support them through the COVID-19 outbreak.

It’s a strange time right now and it’s not only adults who will have noticed. Kids can be very perceptive, and they take in more than we realise.

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This makes supporting them – and alleviating their anxieties – during the coronavirus pandemic all the more important. Your children look to you for comfort when they are distressed and will react to both what you say and how you say it.

The COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing and self-isolation is new to us all; we’re all finding our way as we adapt to our new lifestyles and adopt new ways of working.

No one knows your child better than you, but if you are wondering whether to speak to them about the coronavirus outbreak, here are some points to consider.

Make sure you’re prepared

You don’t need to be an expert on everything but make sure you know the basics before you speak to your child. For example, do you know about the latest handwashing advice or about the common symptoms of coronavirus/COVID-19?

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It will not always be possible to provide answers to all the questions children and young people ask, such as when they can go back to school or when they can see their friends or grandparents in person again.

If your child asks about something and you don’t know the answer, say so. Where possible, use the question as a chance to find out the answer together.

Remain calm and reassuring. While it is natural to want to protect children from what is happening, it is important to talk openly to alleviate concerns. Do not ignore or shield them from what is going on in the world.

Be aware of behavioural changes and if they don’t ask any questions, try starting a conversation with them about the coronavirus, keeping your tone casual and light.

Of course, you’ll want to share only what’s age appropriate. But don’t try and shelter them. There’s a chance they’ll find out elsewhere.

Be an active listener

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Being a good listener is essential to good communication and will encourage your child to share their thoughts and feelings not just now but in the long term.

Take the time to listen to their questions and answer everything you can. If you don’t know, be honest, and if it’s something you can find out tell them that you will.

You don’t need to have all the answers, but make sure they know you’re listening and taking them seriously. Openness and two-way communication can help everyone to feel calm.

Be reassuring

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Reassure your child that it’s unlikely they’ll become seriously ill. Tell them that you will be there to look after them if they become unwell and that you aren’t going anywhere.

They may be worrying about you too – perhaps about who will look after you or them if you get ill. Explain to them about the support you have available and that things will be fine whatever happens.

Keep things positive

Focus on the positives of your situation – such as spending more time together – and talk about these openly with your child. Do fun things together and acknowledge them. Relaxation time and positive activities may encourage your child to open up about how they’re feeling.

Talking about the things you are doing to stay safe can also encourage positivity. Wash your hands regularly, explain how it can help and encourage them to do the same.

If you think they’re old enough, explain social distancing and how you’re helping other people. Explain the need to stay at home as part of a national effort to protect each other. They may feel better if they know they’re part of the effort to make things better.

Could a specially written children’s book help you explain the situation to your child?

The Nurse Dotty books were created by a registered nurse specifically to help alleviate children’s anxiety about health issues. She has written a brilliant book in reaction to the pandemic called Dave the Dog is worried about coronavirus.

It’s a free downloadable e-book and it’s really worth a look. Perhaps it could help you start a conversation with your child about what’s going on.

It’s OK if you’re both feeling anxious

Your child may want to spend more time close to you and they may be more tactile or insecure. Don’t worry too much but try to give them extra attention whenever they need it.

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Pay attention to their body language and reassure them with yours; something as simple as eye contact can make all the difference. And go easy on yourself. If you’re talking and listening with your child, you’re supporting them.

You too may find yourself feeling more worried or anxious than usual. Take time to look after yourself, speak to loved ones if you feel overwhelmed. If you’re really struggling, there are resources available to you.

The Samaritans are not just there for people in deep crisis – they campaign for better mental health in society including the workplace and are always available on 116 123 to listen when you need to talk things through, whatever the circumstance.

Young Minds offers a free helpline for parents who are worried about their children. Call 0808 802 5544 Monday-Friday from 9.30am-4pm or use their online contact form out of hours.

You may also want to consider counselling or therapy from a professional. Many mental health specialists are currently offering sessions via phone or video chat.

To find out more call us on 0808 101 0337

or make an online enquiry.

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