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Families Blog 2: Talking to your child about COVID-19

With all the uncertainty and mixed messages about coronavirus, it can be difficult explaining the situation to adults, let alone children. By now children will have already noticed the changes to their family life with some parents working from home and not going to nursery/school. Depending on their age, some will have some understanding of coronavirus thanks to their teachers explaining it to them prior to the school closures. However, younger children may still be unsure about what the outbreak means and why they are unable to see their extended family and friends or carry out activities they normally would.

If they are child with a liver condition, they may have questions such as “why do I need to use a separate bathroom?” or “why are people staying away from me?”

If they are sibling of a child with a liver condition, they may have questions like “why do I need to wash my hands more?”, “Why can’t I sleep with my brother/sister anymore?” or “Why are we cleaning all the handles?”

How do I explain to my children about coronavirus?

Many of you will have experienced difficult conversations with children through your liver journey. Now all parents across the world are having to navigate complex explanations about coronavirus with their children. We believe that parents such as yourselves have developed many skills needed to reassure and talk to your children. This is an unknown area for everyone but try to use these skills, resources and techniques utilised previously in this situation.

Here are some important tips to keep in mind:

  • Use age appropriate honesty and don’t deny something strange is happening
  • Have open lines of communication – ask what they have heard already and start from there
  • You won’t have all the answers but it’s ok to tell them that and inform them of how scientists are working really hard to find out everything they can
  • Use visual story telling for younger children
  • Manage your own anxiety before reassuring and talking to children about it
  • Reiterate practical advice and that they should do this to protect themselves (if a liver child), their sibling (if a brother/sister of a liver child) and the rest of the world.

It is important to give children knowledge to allow them to feel informed and empowered. You do not need to know all the answers but open lines of communication and talking can help to calm anxieties.

How do I manage expectations and disappointments?

While some children may enjoy the extra time off from school, children of all ages will be upset about not seeing their friends. Reassure them that they will see friends again and this is only temporary to protect everyone in society including them. Support them to use alternative forms of communication such as telephone calls, video calling and letters.

It’s vital that we don’t dismiss the disappointment they feel about things being cancelled and not being able to carry out normal activities. Help them to look and plan ahead and remind them that will be able to do all those things again when we get through this.

You may find that distraction techniques help with disappointment and low moods. Use fun activities to take their mind off the things they can’t do now. There is a wide range of housebound activities being shared on the FAMILY LOCKDOWN TIPS & IDEAS Facebook page.

Do I need to think about mental health and emotional wellbeing?

Monitoring and taking care of children’s mental health and emotional wellbeing is vital but often difficult to assess when a number of factors could be affecting their mood and families are forced to spend so much time together in limited spaces.

Look out for signs of anxiety e.g. loss of appetite, becoming withdrawn. Older children who are more able to take in the severity of the situation and those who know they are more vulnerable or higher risk may be more anxious than others. Monitor if they are they becoming more nervous about others around them or with hygiene e.g. are they washing hands excessively etc. Those with a liver condition may need greater reassurance than other children at this time.

Here are some tips to that may be helpful:

  • Some may benefit from keeping some sort of routine
  • Allow older children some time away to be independent in a separate part of the house if needed
  • Do activities they enjoy, where possible, to improve their mood
  • Remember to continually reassure them that everyone is doing everything they can to protect them
  • Allow them to talk about worries and concerns

Remember CLDF are here if you want to discuss how best to talk to your children about coronavirus or need a listening ear.

Links and resources

  1. Young Minds: https://youngminds.org.uk/blog/talking-to-your-child-about-coronavirus/#ten-tips-from-our-parents-helpline
  2. This CBBC Newsround video is good at explaining some of the answers to questions children may have. Some of it may be a little out of date due to more stringent self-distancing measures being put in place since then but still incredibly useful information shared in a child friendly way: Coronavirus: Your questions answered https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2rQV34fr-M
  3. Carol Gray Social Story about Coronavirus: https://carolgraysocialstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Pandemics-and-the-Coronavirus.pdf
  4. Comic style visual story on coronavirus for children: https://660919d3-b85b-43c3-a3ad3de6a9d37099.filesusr.com/ugd/64c685_319c5acf38d34604b537ac9fae37fc80.pdf

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