Resources available for parents looking to explain COVID-19 pandemic
Jesse Bonello - Staff Writer
Local health units and organizations are providing tips and recommendations for parents looking to speak to their children about the COVID-19 pandemic.
When it comes to fearing the infection itself, Dr. Ian Gemmill, Acting Medical Officer of Health for the Northwestern Health Unit, said most cases in children seem to be milder. He said explaining the virus according to the child’s age is important.
“Children, interestingly, have not that much to fear from this infection because it seems that children are not getting severe illness as anyone. As a matter of fact, one of the concerns about children, and one of the reasons why the schools are closed, is with milder infections, and I’m not saying they’re trivial, but they’re milder then what you might have in an 80-year-old, then if they’re running around with a milder infection may be a source of infection for others. There will be exceptions to every rule, but children generally are doing way better,” said Dr. Gemmill.
“Children may be sensing some kind of concern or fear on the part of the parent, and I think this is a question that has to be handled in each individual family using good judgement… It’s really important, of course, to explain it at an age-appropriate level so that we don’t make the children even more afraid,” he said.
The Thunder Bay District Health Unit website, www.tbdhu.com, features information and tips for parents looking to speak with their children about COVID-19.
“With COVID-19 now considered a pandemic, it is common for children and youth to be feeling increasingly anxious. News streams and mainstream media can be panic-inducing and make children and youth (as well as adults!) fearful for their health. Here we have some recommendations for talking to your children about COVID-19 and ways to support their mental health:
Remain calm and reassure safety
With all the information circulating about COVID-19, it can be overwhelming, especially for children. Try and stay calm when talking to your children about COVID-19 to avoid increasing their anxiety and fear. Assure your child that they are safe right now and that there are many adults working to keep everyone safe during the outbreak. Let them know that is okay to feel scared and show them ways to manage and cope with their anxiety and mental health.
Clear misconceptions and talk to your kids about risk
Be honest with your children about the risk of COVID-19, but do not give more information than they can handle. Share the facts in a way that they can understand. Allow them time to ask questions and answer them the best that you can and turn to reliable sources of information together. If you’re not sure how to talk about COVID-19 with your kids, there are some great podcasts that might be helpful or webpages that provide tips to guide the discussion with kid-friendly language.
Set boundaries with media
All the media channels and news can be really frightening for kids! Try and limit your children’s exposure to television and media as it relates to COVID-19 as it may cause them to perceive the threat as much greater than it is.
Keep a sense of structure
In order to make things feel like normal for your children, try and keep a sense of structure and routine in your home unless otherwise noted. Structures and routines can help your child cope with anxiety around COVID-19.
Avoid blaming the pandemic on any certain countries or people
Know that COVID-19 is not the fault of any certain countries or people and should not be blamed on others. Avoid becoming angry or blaming COVID-19 on any place or person, especially around your children.
Check in on your children’s mental health
Overall, this is a scary time, especially for children. Make sure to keep an eye on them and take note if they start acting differently, becoming fearful, or withdrawing. Children can show stress differently than adults. Ask them about how they are feeling and if they want to talk. Don’t dismiss their fear and support them the best that you can,” their website reads.
In a Facebook post on March 17, FIREFLY provided tips for parents and caregivers when it comes to talking to anxious children about COVID-19.
"Children and youth who have an anxiety disorder may find the information about COVID-19 in the news and around them especially worrisome. It would be most beneficial for them if information is presented in a calm, structured and realistic manner,” FIREFLY shared.
Their tips for parents include informing yourself, focusing on the details that are the most relevant, limiting routine changes where possible, sharing information in as concrete a way as possible, and correcting misinformation.
“Review good hygiene practices and, if appropriate, make fun games out of these habits. If they wish to discuss case numbers, statistics they have heard, economic impact, political fallout, etc., help them to be sure they have a reliable source,” the Facebook post read.
The World Health Organization also has recommendations for parents, stating, “Be willing to talk. They will already have heard something. Silence and secrets do not protect our children. Honesty and openness do. Think about how much they will understand. You know them best… It is fine to say “We don’t know, but we are working on it; or we don’t know, ‘but we think’. Use this as an opportunity to learn something new with your child!”
For more information, visit www.tbdhu.com/children, www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public/healthy-parenting, or www.fireflynw.ca.