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How to talk to your child about coronavirus

How to talk to your child about coronavirus

The world is facing a daunting pandemic – a virus that has transcended borders and had a huge impact on all of our daily lives. At Plan International UK we are feeling the effects in the countries we work in and in our homes as well. 

We know that this kind of event can be really difficult for children to understand. This is why, with psychologist Karen Young, we have produced a helpful guide designed to help parents and guardians to navigate some of the tough conversations some of us might be having at the moment. Download the guide for more information including helpful tips, suggestions and phrases you could use. 

1) Let them know that whatever they are feeling is okay 

Children will respond in different ways to the crisis. Let them know they aren’t alone, and that whatever they are experiencing or feeling in response to a crisis is normal. 

A parent supports their child by reassuring them about the coronavirus outbreak
Photo credit: Shutterstock

2) Reassure them 

Children will be looking for reassurance that they are safe, so let this guide your answers. Answer their questions honestly and with as much information as they need to feel safe. Let your children know that there are many people working hard to keep them safe – scientists, doctors, nurses and emergency responders – and that people are working on developing a vaccine. 

3) Help them know they, and others, aren’t alone 

Crises are a time when communities come together. Families, neighbours, emergency workers and government authorities all have skills and resources to contribute – your children should know that they aren’t alone. 

4) What if this happens to us? 

Traumatic events can make children very aware of their own vulnerability and a crisis can understandably trigger fears that something could happen to them. Children will look to the important adults in their lives for signs of safety. When those adults believe they are safe enough, it will be easier for children to believe it too. 

5) Ensure they understand how to protect themselves 

Talk to your children about how to properly wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Come up with a fun song to sing while they do so (the Happy Birthday or alphabet songs are good examples). 

A girl uses hand sanitiser
Photo credit: iStock

6) Talk about the facts 

When you’re explaining the virus to your child, be sure to use language they’ll understand. We can describe how viruses need us to help them move into our lungs and infect us, so the easiest way to avoid that is to not touch it, not touch our faces and keep our hands very clean.

7) Help them find ways to help 

Ask your children what they can do to help others in your community. Encouraging them towards their own acts of kindness will help to replace feelings of helplessness with a sense of hope and the awareness they can make a difference. Perhaps they could draw rainbows for their window, take part in the clap for carers, or schedule regular video calls with grandparents.

8) Maintain a sense of fun, spontaneity and joy in their daily lives  

Now that schools are closed for many children and self-isolation measures are being enforced, it's easy for children to feel restless. This is the perfect time to ask them what they would like to do and come up with some ideas together.  
In the guide you will see links to fun things you could do together like watch zoo webcams or interactive museum tours. 

9) Keep a routine  

In times of uncertainty, children will benefit from keeping to their normal routine or schedule. As much as you can, keep the conversation at dinnertime as normal as possible. At bedtime, why not ask your child to talk about their day and name three things they feel they did well or enjoyed.  

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We're working to support children affected by Coronavirus