Parenting can be tough in any given situation, but unprecedented situations make it feel particularly impossible. We asked the team of expert psychologists at Brisbane’s Benchmark Psychology for their tips on talking to our children about coronavirus.
Q: It can be hard to stay positive during global emergencies – especially ones we are collectively facing for the very first time. How important is modeling positive behaviour for our children, and how can we do it?
Dr Aaron Frost: A global emergency like this can bring out both the kindest and most generous part of human nature – as well as the worst. We have seen people reaching out to neighbours they have never met and checking in on them, but we have also seen panic and selfishness. More than many, this crisis highlights the fact that we are only as strong as the most vulnerable. Children will remember our actions and the choices we made. Think about what lessons you would like them to learn. For example, is it to look out for everyone and pull through this together, or is it just to look after yourself?
Q: How important is our choice of language, and how should parents speak about coronavirus to and in front of our children?
Dr Aaron Frost: Language is important, but no more important than behaviour and body language. I think it is always best to speak to children clearly in language that they can understand, and help them to understand the real situation to the best of your knowledge. You can’t shield them from news that is being broadcast 24/7 through all media and around them, so it is better to be open and have a frank and honest dialogue with them instead.
Dr Alison Bocquee: I think sharing information with children regarding coronavirus is important. The information is everywhere, being broadcast constantly, discussed at school and being planned for on multiple levels. By talking to your children about coronavirus with openness and child-friendly language, you can at least have some control over what your child is informed of. This also encourages your child to ask questions of you, because they know you aren’t avoidant or overly distressed about the topic.
Q: What are some signs our children might be overwhelmed or anxious about coronavirus?
Dr Jasmine Pang: Some signs of overwhelm or anxiety include: increase in worries, difficulties separating from parents, reverting to behaviors that they have grown out of, and repeatedly asking or talking about it (reassurance seeking).
Q: How can we emphasise the importance of taking health precautions, without scaring our children?
Dr Jasmine Pang: One way this can be achieved is to explain to them why we need to follow precautions and state that this is part of being socially responsible any time that we have a cold/flu season. Recognize that it’s not going to totally prevent occurrences, but it is how we do the best we can. Place a strong emphasis on what they can do to help – for example, learning how to do proper handwashing and practice good personal habits. Model the confidence that we can get through it and place emphasis on doing it together as a family and community. For quarantine specifically, perhaps make a quarantine plan and work together on preparing: set up a lineup of movies, games, books, quarantine or homeschool schedules, ideas of what you can do while quarantined, etc.
Dr Aaron Frost: In the current situation I don’t think there is anything wrong with children being a little scared. Fear is an appropriate response to stressful situations, and it keeps us alert to things that might harm them. But I would differentiate between being a little fearful and being overwhelmed and full of panic. Honesty is important. For example, “This disease is going to have a large impact, however most people are going to be fine with very little illness at all. We all need to do our part to try and improve the chances for everyone”.
Q: What are your top tips for parenting through COVID-19?
Dr Jasmine Pang: As a parent, managing your own anxiety and taking care of yourself would be my biggest tip. Keep balanced. It is a crisis and one that needs to be taken seriously, but it is one that is very manageable. Children can learn about how to navigate a crisis by observing us, and we need to model accordingly. Be careful how much exposure to media your children are getting, and keep conversations open with children – they hear all sorts of information that may not be true. Get the right information from credible sources (some good links below) so you can help your child and family navigate the crisis appropriately and calmly. Make it clear that your kids can come to you with questions, and make sure you’re ready to answer them. If you don’t have the answers it’s ok to say, “We don’t know yet but once we know I’ll tell you”. It’s a good opportunity to model how we can tolerate and sit with uncertainty.
Q: Are there any resources out there that parents can call on?
Dr Jasmine Pang: There are some really good websites and blogs specifically on COVID-19 online, particularly government websites. Sharon from Kooky Clinic has developed a wonderful little Pandemic “panic pack” which has information and practical strategies to manage COVID-19 panic.
HEAD HERE FOR MORE…
Kooky Clinic’s Panic Pack // Click here
UNICEF’s recommendations for talking to children about coronavirus // Click here
Kids Health tips for parents // Click here
The Child Mind Institute advice on talking about coronavirus // Click here