Talking to kids about coronavirus

Sunday, March 22, 2020
A confident and calm approach to coronavirus will help ease kids’ worries and make them feel secure, says Pam Bogue of Buena Vista County Public Health.
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STORM LAKE ― Stressful situations often cause kids to worry, even if they don’t show it. They will have questions about the changes taking place in their world. A confident and calm approach to coronavirus will help ease kids’ worries and make them feel secure, says Pam Bogue of Buena Vista County Public Health.

“We know traumatic things do affect them ― and this could be a trauma especially if children see parents having issues coping with the anxiety and stress themselves,” she said. “More studies even in the last five or 10 years have shown how the traumas that kids experience at a young age can affect them all through their lives.”

In mental health circles, they are called ACEs ― adverse childhood experiences. The local public health workers have received extra training in the area.

“A lot depends on the child ― different kids react differently,” Bogue said of sharing information. “They are going to realize that something has changed, whether it is not going to day care or school, or suddenly having mom and dad at home. If they haven’t already, they will be asking questions about what is going on. A simple description of what we are dealing with on COVID-19, and the calmness that a parent can share, is going to help.”

Phrasing will vary with the child’s age level, but Bogue recommends something very basic: “Some people are getting sick, so we’re staying at home because we don’t want you to get sick, and we want to help protect other people from getting sick.”

Having kids watch constant dire news reports isn’t the best approach, especially if they are too young to absorb the scientific jargon, she says.

“Especially if you have a nervous Nellie-type, answer as simply as you can,” Bogue said. “Shield them from all the ‘world is coming to an end’ panic that doesn’t help anyone. Let them know that eventually we will be done with this, and it will just be a time the family will remember.”

While parents may have their own worries, if possible, they should try to make the time home together fun, she feels.

“I love to see posts from a teacher friend of mine, she’s having a hoot with her kids at home,” Bogue said.

Bogue is following her own advice of calmness.

“We’re sharing a ton of information,” she said. “Every day something changes on how to handle the situation. My hope is that we will get to see the other end of this and when we look back we will compare it to a flu outbreak ― though it isn’t the flu. We have to take a lot of extra precautions because it is new.”

The Iowa Department of Public Health also has some recommendations for families with children during the COVID-19 restrictions:

―Keep activities as consistent and routine as possible in the home.

―Ask your children what they have heard about COVID-19, and allow them to express feelings or concerns. Let them know it is okay to be afraid or mad, and help them deal with those feelings.

―When children are uncertain or afraid, they need attention and affection more than ever. Make sure they feel safe and loved.

―If children are watching television, watch with them, and be available to answer questions about things they see or hear on COVID-19.

―Encourage healthy behaviors such as eating well, sleeping well and playing outside.

―Reinforce good practices like washing hands, covering mouths when coughing or sneezing, and not sharing food.

―Let kids know that any changes in routine are because adults at home or school are taking care of their health and safety.

Parents who are stressed out about their children’s safety should remember that 80% of people who get the virus recover quickly, and that children are at the lowest risk.

“Some kids who do get COVID-19 won’t even know they had anything,” Bogue said.

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