In today’s world children can more often than not, be exposed to current local and global tragedies and dangers, no matter how much parents try to shield them. It can be hard for them to process these serious issues and their imagination can run wild.
Discussing these issues with your child may not be easy but by discussing them in age-appropriate language, it will help your child feel more secure and safe. This is particularly important as we go through the current coronavirus global pandemic. Younger children might not understand why they can’t go to school or childcare, or why they can’t see grandma and grandpa.
Here are some tips you can use to talk to your child about the pandemic, or other serious issues:
1. Provide just enough information about the issue1
Most young children don’t have enough life experience to understand complex and abstract issues. News reporting can use words and phrases that can scare your child. Try as much as possible to limit your child’s exposure to the news to avoid causing too much anxiety and choosing media that is targeted to younger children.
Use age-appropriate language and examples to explain the issue2. For example, if they are asking about how people catch coronavirus, explain that when someone sneezes or coughs, they can spread germs through the air. Explain to them that the germs can also get on their hands and therefore, it is important to wash their hands and avoid touching their face. Here are some exercises you can do with your child to help them understand why they need to practice good personal hygiene:
At this stage, most children can read and write independently and are exposed to more complex news in the media. Wait for them to come to you if something is worrying them. When you encourage open dialogue and discussion in your house, they’re more likely to come to you when there is a difficult issue bothering them.
With teenagers, they’re often exposed to news on social media or television. As we know, there is a lot of false information out there on the Internet! Engage in discussions with them about the news and make sure your child knows you are listening. Don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t have all the answers2. You can work together with them to fact-check information and calm their worries at the same time. With a lot of misinformation on COVID-19 circulating on the Internet here are some reliable sources of information:
- World Health Organisation Myth busters
- Australian Government Department of Health
- Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
2. Acknowledge their feelings
Address their emotions when talking about serious subjects. Let your child know that it is normal to feel scared, sad, or confused about the situation. Share your feelings with them as well and reassure them that you will be there for them, and that the family is safe3.
Children are very observant and sensitive to how things affect the members of their primary relationships — parents, siblings, grandparents, etc. It is important that you are calm and reassuring when talking about the issue.
Do look out for reassurance seeking in young children — i.e. your child could be repeatedly asking the same or similar questions; try to determine whether their anxiety seems to be increasing despite the fact that you’ve been answering their questions. Health Direct has a list of resources catered to young children, or you can contact your family doctor or psychologist for more resources or help.
Similar to pre-schoolers, always acknowledge your child’s feelings and emotions. Teenagers might be less likely to open up about what they’re feeling but as a parent it’s still a good idea to check in with them from time to time. With COVID-19, restriction measures by the government will disrupt their daily routine — schools are now online, they’re not allowed to hang out with their friends; social activities like sports and dance classes are cancelled and can have an impact on their mental health. Direct them to online mental health resources if they feel more comfortable talking to a professional:
- Australian Government Department of Health – Head to Health
- Beyond Blue
- More resources can be found at Health Direct
3. Take care of yourself3
If your child is bothered by a serious issue that is covered constantly in the news, it is likely that you’re just as, if not more exposed to the story. With the current global pandemic, adults are likely dealing with higher than normal pressure and having to juggle between working from home and taking care of your children.
Take a break from the news and turn off the TV. Do some physical exercise, or just spend time with your family playing games or watching movies. Taking a much-needed break from the constant news cycle can be beneficial to both you and your child to calm down and relieve the stress and anxiety. This can make discussions about difficult topics a lot more productive and effective, rather than being too caught up in negative emotions.
Don’t avoid difficult topics!
Opening up about serious topics will not only reassure and reduce anxiety in your child but will also strengthen the bond between you. It lets them know that you’re willing to listen and help them, and it makes them feel safe and secure. The next time they have problems, they know that they can come to you for help without feeling judged.
- Sperling, J. How to talk to children about the coronavirus. (Link)
- Knorr, C. How to Talk to Kids About Difficult Subjects. (Link)
- American Psychological Association. How to talk to children about difficult news. (Link)