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As a parent and a professional working with young children, I understand how fearful one must feel in the face of a crisis. It can be quite daunting to face changes in society and have a lot of unanswered questions about what is happening, whilst at the same time trying to offer reassurance and a safe space for your own children. Adults need to keep in mind that they are their children’s point of reference. Children will observe your actions and reactions and reflect them back through their own behaviours. The younger the age, the greater the need for children to make sense of the world around them through the feedback that the adults in their lives are giving them. We might feel the urge to shelter them from everything negative that is happening around us, however the healthiest option is to equip them with the necessary skills to cope with whatever life may bring their way.

How do I talk to my kids about corona virus?

1. The media is full of information, perceptions and personal judgments about the topic. The first thing to do, especially with older children, is to have a discussion and find out what they already know or think about the topic. Find out how they feel and check if they have any questions they may need to ask.

2. It is important to get your facts straight. Read about it through verified and reliable sources. Talk to health care professionals and ask for guidance in case you are confused. It is important that as an adult you are able to separate facts from personal opinions that vary from individual to individual.

3. Be aware of your own feelings and fears. Whatever you may be experiencing, when talking to your children it is essential to keep calm and contained. Do not let your panic show since you want to put your children’s mind at rest and not create unnecessary anxiety within them. If you are feeling scared or sad, it is OK to acknowledge these feelings with your children. They need to learn about these emotions too. Show them that you also feel in this way, similar to how sometimes they do. Teach them how to express these emotions and handle them in order  to be able to continue with your life.

4. Explain to your children (always using language and meaning that is age appropriate) about what is happening currently and what may change. Children have less control over their lives and by giving them the information they need to make sense of things and understand better what is happening, you are empowering them into not feeling so helpless. When describing any changes in their usual routine, also focus on the measures that there are in place as prevention and of dealing with any situation. It is not always possible to plan ahead for everything but tell them about the authorities / responsible persons who are there to help them. For example, tell them that they can take care of themselves by washing their hands, avoiding crowded places, that there are helplines in place which anyone can use.

5. Give your children the space to ask questions and answer them as truthfully as possible. You don’t need to shock your children, however saying the truth ensures that you remain credible in your children’s eyes and also that they do not have false information which in the long run could lead to them being more vulnerable. This may also mean that you could tackle other sensitive topics like the death of loved ones, serious illnesses where people may be immunocompromised, difficult situations in other countries, etc…

6. Remain with a positive attitude and ensure that you check in with your relatives and people you care for. Ensure that you are coping well and have enough support to get you through this rough patch too, especially if you feel very anxious about the whole situation.

Abigail Church is a Humanistic Integrative Counsellor who works with adults and children through counselling with Willingness. She can be contacted on abigail@willingness.com.mt or call us on 79291817.