Talking to children about Coronavirus
Written by Winston’s Wish
All children will have questions about the effects of the virus but for children who have had someone important die or have a member of their family who is ill, this anxiety is likely to be heightened. Parents have been asking us how to reassure bereaved children and young people who are worried about the effect of this virus on their family.
While no-one can predict exactly what will happen in the next few weeks, children and young people may pick up on the anxiety of adults around them, may see coverage on news and social media, or be aware of changed procedures at school or college.
After someone important dies, children will be very worried about the health of their surviving family. It is natural for a child whose parent has died, for example, to be worried that something bad will happen to the other parent.
Fears may include: someone else dying, someone becoming ill and unable to look after the child, the changes to normal living that would happen if someone else gets sick or dies. Children with relatives who are already ill, for example, a grandparent with lung disease or a parent with cancer, will be particularly concerned that this virus may increase the risk to their relative.
Acknowledge their worries
Your child may understandably be concerned or worried by what they see, read or hear in the news, online or at school regarding coronavirus, and this anxiety can be heightened for children and young people who have had someone important die.
It’s good to talk to them honestly but calmly about what is happening, and to not ignore or shield them from what is going on in the world. Remember that you don’t need to have all of the facts and answers. There are lots of resources out there for you to read together (see below) and a gentle conversation can reassure your child that they can talk to you so they don’t feel like they’re on their own.
Children and young people who have been bereaved or are facing the death of someone important will appreciate people acknowledging their particular concerns.
“I guess you might be wondering if this virus will make Granny sicker?”
“I wonder if we could talk a little about this virus; I notice you’ve been a bit quiet today?”
Reassuring your child
It is natural that children and young people who have experienced the death of someone important may worry that something will happen to someone else in their family. They will spot false reassurance but it is reasonable to put what is happening into context in a reassuring way.
It may be helpful to remind your child that some people only experience mild symptoms and reassure them that more people are recovering from the virus than dying from it. You could tell them that it is unlikely they will get very ill, and if they do you will look after them, and if you get the virus you will be probably only be ill for a few days.
“I want you to know that I am very healthy and even if I get the virus, I’m only likely to feel a bit poorly for a few days.”
“We’ll make sure that Grandpa gets looked after safely.”
Don’t be afraid to have conversations with your child about coronavirus – not talking about something can sometimes make children worry more. Other children will be talking about it at school and they may have heard it on the news or social media. You may need to gauge their level of understanding or interest to decide what level of detail you need to go into when explaining what is going on.
Older children may have already read or seen a lot of information online and could be feeling overwhelmed. You could help them limit the amount of times they check the news and encourage them to get information from reputable websites.
“Let’s watch this film together. I think it will answer most of your questions and if you have any more, I’ll do my best to answer them.”
Useful video links for speaking to children about Coronavirus