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It’s normal for parents to worry about their children after a distressing event. Most parents worry about whether the behaviours their children are showing are common, and how they can best support them.
Children often express a range of reactions to a distressing event, but the strongest predictor of how children will recover is how the important adults in their life recover. That’s why it is so important that you look after yourself. Think about it like putting on an oxygen mask when you’re on a plane – you have to look after yourself first so that you can help other people.
Explaining what COVID-19 is to a child
As a trusted adult, you can help reassure and educate your children about COVID-19. Talking to them will help them understand the illness and be reassured.
There are ways to talk to children that will help limit their fears and address their concerns:
- Use age-appropriate language.
- Show that you are listening and their concerns are important to you.
- Explain that you haven’t been through anything like this either, but you know the world will keep spinning and the sun will come up each day.
- Remind them you are there to look after them.
- Tell them if we listen carefully to advice and put one foot in front of another, it will be okay.
- Remind them that there have been pandemics across history, the experts know what to do, and the disease will run its course (as all epidemics do).
It can be hard to know how to explain COVID-19. These are some ideas you can put into your own words to suit the age and stage of your child.
- COVID-19 is a disease caused by a new germ or bug. Germs are tiny organisms that live in our environment and can make us sick if they get in our bodies.
- You cannot see germs with your eyes (only under a microscope). They are a bit like chilli. You cannot see chilli on your hands but if you lick your fingers or touch your eyes you will know it is there!
- The germ that causes COVID-19 spreads easily from person to person and infects the breathing system, our nose, throat and lungs.
- It is passed from person to person through tiny droplets when people cough or sneeze, which get into someone else’s eyes, nose or mouth. That’s why we should try not to get too close to others, and cover our sneezes and coughs with our arm or a tissue, then wash our hands.
- The droplets might land on surfaces like phones, door handles, tables and hands. If we shake someone’s hand or touch these things and then touch our eyes, mouth or nose, the germ can get inside us.
- Most kids won’t get very sick if they get COVID-19. If they do it will be a bit like getting a cold.
- The disease is more serious in older people and people that have other sicknesses already.
- We all need to do what we can to stop the germ spreading.
You could consider using a tool like this visual explanation of COVID-19 to talk with your children about what this disease is.
How you can help your children cope
During or after something distressing, parents want to support their children in responding to and dealing with the events.
What might be helpful:
- Listen to what they have to say. Answer their questions.
- Help your children understand what happened. Be honest. Use information based on facts.
- Reassure them about the future.
- Involve children in chores and responsibilities as soon as they can cope with them.
- Try to keep a regular routine (reading before bed, eating dinner together, daily exercise).
- Encourage play and fun.
- Make time for the family to be together and enjoy each other's company. Laugh
- Be open about your thoughts and feelings. It may surprise you how perceptive your children are.
- Allow emotions to be shared in the family, in a way which does not overwhelm.
- Let them cry, hang around you or the house, be clinging or physically close.
- Thank and praise children when appropriate.
If your child’s distress is escalating or they are displaying any worrying behaviours (such as extreme withdrawal, terror that you cannot comfort them from etc.), it’s important that you seek help early.
You can call or text 1737 to talk with a trained counsellor for free, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.