How do I talk about the coronavirus with children, youth and families?
The coronavirus and the news coverage around it can cause fear in children, youth and families.
Fear can come in many different shades and degrees. Young people may be strongly affected by the feeling of being threatened. As they think about potentially frightening things, fear tends to become stronger. Also the body may start to react: a fast and violent heartbeat, an aching stomach, or intensive sweating. When scared, children may react by crying, by hiding or by aggressive behaviour. Fear can come out in many ways. When it does, children and youth need a safe adult close to them. Even if the fear is only momentary, they should not be left alone with their fear.
When scared, children and youth need the experience that an adult can offer, as well as a safe environment in which to express their emotions. By sharing their difficult feelings with their parents, they can be reassured that they are not in danger, that it is not harmful to be afraid, and that they can share everything with the adults close to them.
It is important that children and youth receive answers to any questions they may have, in a way that makes sense in their specific age. Answers and explanations should be based on reliable information provided by health authorities. It is good to protect them from false or provocative information. The role of the adult is to correct wrong perceptions and misunderstandings. Children easily hear things and difficult terms (e.g. quarantine, corona, threat, pandemic, etc.) that they do not necessarily understand. It is also good to think through together whether it is wise to watch or listen to the news at all.
Preparing for the coronavirus is hard because it is a new and unknown phenomenon. Its strangeness and unpredictability can also raise fear in the adult's own mind. Therefore, it is important for adults to reflect on these matters and share their own confusion with other adults. It is good to stop and listen to what worries us most about all this. After that, it is easier to receive the anxiety of a child or youth and calm them down.
Fear of sickness and death can cause stress in the life of children and youth. A parent or other safe adult can dispel those fears. The familiar routines of everyday life and togetherness in a relaxed atmosphere calm us down and strengthen our feeling of security.
Still, death and sickness need not be hidden from children and youth. Often, their feeling of security is enhanced when their thoughts and questions are being heard.
You can also pray with children and youth. In prayer you can leave the emotions of fear and anxiety into the hands of your Heavenly Father.