Talking to Kids about Coronavirus“We’re going to protect them, but not shield them.”

As heard on The Ray D'Arcy Show

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As the world continues to get to grips with the spread of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, Ray D’Arcy spoke to Joanna Fortune, author of 15-Minute Parenting, on talking to children about the disease. Joanna’s ideas include informing ourselves of the facts, then providing kids with some context for all the information that’s coming at them. She also suggests involving kids in practical measures to prevent the spread of the disease.

Joanna says that children may already have more information about stories in the headlines than we think they do. Her view is that we should keep them in the loop and not try to hide too much from them:

“We’re going to protect them, but not shield them. Because I think if we start shielding them, we really put that emotional charge around ‘This is something you shouldn’t know’, and what does that do? That makes me really want to know. So I’m gonna go behind your back to know then.”

The most useful way of approaching it, Joanna says, is to place the information they already have in the proper context, to build a fuller picture around the often sensational facts that are buzzing around:

“If we can model it in such a way that our role is to provide a context: ‘OK, so you’ve heard this’. And I think a good place to start is by asking them, ‘What have you heard? When you hear the word coronavirus, what comes to your mind? What do you understand by that?’ ”

As an example of providing context, Joanna says that if children say they’ve heard people can die of COVID-19, there’s no harm in confirming that, but balancing it with the fact that the majority of people are likely to survive an infection. She also points out that starting with questions helps the adult discover the child’s baseline knowledge. As parents and guardians, we can acknowledge the fears of children without dismissing them, Joanna says.

“I think that’s crucial when children have a worry, a fear or an anxiety about something, our instinct as parents is, ‘I just want to take that away. I just want them to feel fine and safe’.  But actually, if we say, ‘Not at all, don’t be worrying!’ we teach them that we’re not able for their worry. We teach them that they shouldn’t bring that to us.”

On the practical front, Joanna has a few suggestions for what we can say and do. She says actions give children a sense that they have some control:

“Here are four things that we can do: and you go, so, ‘When we sneeze or cough into tissues, get rid of the tissue. Or we use our elbow not our hand. And we don’t touch our face once we’ve coughed or sneezed anywhere near our hands. And actually, did you know that there are different ways of washing your hands? We really want to use the way that gets rid of the dangerous germs.  And let me show you, let’s all do it together!’ ”

Finally, Joanna says staying calm is important and looking for guidelines from reliable sources:

“And even when there’s panic, there’s a plan. So always look for the plan.”

You can hear more in Joanna Fortune’s full chat about Coronavirus/COVID-19 with Ray here.

Ruth Kennedy

© The Listener 2020

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