Talking to our children about Coronavirus is one of those dreaded by “necessary evils”, like talking about the birds and the bees. Unless parents step up to the plate, most Batswana children will be learning about the disease from cyber terrorists and online fake news peddlers.
Dr Sophie Moagi, clinical psychologist in Gaborone says, “Everyone is talking about corona virus, it’s everywhere you look. And if we’re seeing it so prominently, that means our kids are too and they might not understand it all – and that can be scary for them. Although it might not seem like a big deal, parents need to sit down with their children to explain COVID-19 in a way that they’ll understand. You’ll need to explain things slowly and carefully and use words that won’t cause panic or more confusion. If a child doesn’t understand the term “virus” or can’t comprehend “corona virus” you might try explaining that certain germs are making people sick and that everyone wants to avoid those germs. Adults need to understand that if they panic kids are most likely going to feed off that. If you are a young child and your parents are terrified, rushing out, stocking up that is going to inflate a child’s anxiety level. Just like panicking does not help children, it is important that parents model positive health behavior too, this includes washing hands, coughing or sneezing into elbows and not touching faces –things health officials urge people to do to prevent the spread of the novel corona virus. If a child is young and has limited understanding of what is going on, you don’t need to share detailed information with them. But if your child is in school and is hearing about the virus from friends and on the news, you should talk to them about it.
The fear and uncertainty around COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel corona virus is stressful for many adults and can be especially anxiety-provoking for children. Even if children and teenagers don’t appear to be following the virus news carefully, it is likely that they are absorbing the information and stress from adults. They are hearing about it from friends and making their own inferences about what it all means. Rather than leave this education up to friends, siblings or media, parents play an important role in helping children and teenagers better understand what is happening and help them manage their own worries or anxiety. When we’re seeing lots of troubling images on TV or online it makes the crisis a lot real. Children don’t always distinguish between images on screen and their own person reality and they may believe they are in imminent danger. One of the most important things to keep in mind is that children use adults to understand the world, kids will be more or less anxious based on how the adults around them are communicating with them. The amount of information parents share with their children and the way they deliver it all depends on their age. Parents can start by asking kids what they know about corona virus. They may have heard comments from friends or overheard an adult conversation about it but they might not fully understand it. This can cause kids to share something that might not be true or repeat misinformation which can lead to more confusion. Having kids at home for an indefinite extended period during an unprecedented worldwide pandemic of a new and frightening virus is tough and many parents are struggling with their own anxiety whether it’s over the virus itself or the measures in place to reduce its spread. Add to that the stress of being confined at home with kids and having to explain probably repeatedly why they can’t have friends over or go out to play.
If parents haven’t already talked to their children about good hand hygiene now is the time to do it. Parents should clearly explain to their kids that it is important to wash their hands- thoroughly. Use a tissue to cover your mouth and nose when you cough and not to touch your face especially with unclean hands. Explaining that they can help prevent catching the virus or passing it onto their friends by practicing good hygiene can give them a sense of control. As much as the news keeps people in the know, it can be harmful for children who are exposed to it without an explanation from adults, it would be best if parents would try to watch, listen or read coverage of COVID-19 with their children, in that way adults know what message is being portrayed and can help explain. Explaining to kids that lots of doctors, nurses and healthcare workers are working hard to keep everyone safe and healthy is also important. Children (and adults) need to know and understand that people are helping each other at a time where things feel a little uncertain. Reassure your child that everything that is happening (whether it’s school closing, social distancing or being in the hospital) is to stop or help prevent people from getting sick.