We all want to protect our kids. Sometimes, that can translate to us feeling like we should shield them from the bad things that happen in the world – to stop them finding out about terror attacks, loss of life or disease.
But the Covid-19 pandemic is something very different. Regardless of whether your child knows anyone who’s contracted it, their lives have been – and will continue to be – affected. And they need to understand the precautions.
They’re dealing with school closures, not being able to see their friends or relatives, as well as the disconcerting sight of people on the street wearing masks and keeping at a 2m distance.
Calls to Childline about coronavirus have spiked in recent days with one girl telling a counsellor that her mum was so preoccupied with the crisis that she wouldn’t hug or get close to her. There have also been reports of older LGBTQ+ kids feeling trapped in isolation with unsympathetic parents.
We can’t stop our children worrying about Covid-19 or all the changes it’s bringing to their lives. But there are ways of making it easier for them.
Consultant clinical psychologist Emma Citron tells HuffPost it’s important to keep it simple when talking to kids about the pandemic. She advises showing them the news via services such as CBBC’s Newsround, which will also include other off-topic items, and to also give them positive news of recoveries.
“You can ask your kids indirect questions about the situation, such as how they feel about being off school,” she says. “You could pose a fun hypothetical scenario: “When we can have a family day trip - what would you like it to be?”″
Citron also says it’s important to model a calm tone of voice, rather than seeming worried yourself. “As always, take the lead from them. Make sure you sound calm and casual, so they aren’t worried about freaking you out. If a child asks something blunt – like, if anyone you know is going to die – focus on the positives. Say things like: “Well, Granny is staying indoors and her neighbours are helping her by putting food on the drive.”″
She also says you can work with a child to think of ways to help elderly relatives – and this will help them feel in control. “Brainstorm with children to see if there’s anything they want to do, such as a daily FaceTime and group chat,” Citron says.
“Get them to help – a nice way of making them feel more in control in this ‘out of control’ situation is asking them how to set up a group to get grandparents involved. Or, you can go out together to help an older person locally. Do it safely – children will need to stay in the car – but they can smile and wave. Rally their positive community spirit. Kids are brilliant at that.”
1. Talk about feelings and worries
This doesn’t always have to be face-to-face – try asking your child to write a letter. And if someone your child knows has died, the Marie Curie website for tips on talking to young people about death – and Childline can also help.
2. Hug each other – but know when you need space
Be aware that children may want more close contact with you at this time and feel anxious about separation – or they may need some time on their own. Try to provide this support whenever possible.
3. Do something positive together
Spend time doing a positive activity together – such as reading, playing, painting, baking or cooking – to help reassure them and reduce their anxiety. This is also a great way of providing a space for them to talk through their concerns, without having a ‘big chat’. See this guide for some top tips on starting a conversation with your child.
4. Keep in touch with others but balance screen-time
Find ways to allow your child to interact with their friends and family through FaceTime or group chat. But writing a letter or drawing a picture is great too.
5. Try to create structure and routine
A lack of routine can make young people anxious and upset. Try creating a rota or timetable – even if you don’t stick to it rigorously. It will help them look forward to things. Always include time outside and physical activity if possible.
6. Help give children a sense of control
Encourage kids to talk when they are sad, anxious or angry, and try not to minimise their feelings. YoungMinds have specific advice for young people on looking after their mental health while self isolating. Visit the website for more information.
7. Look after yourself, too
If you yourself are feeling worried, or anxious, talk to someone you trust who can listen and support you.