Child mental health experts urge parents to talk to children about coronavirus
Children are not immune to the community fear and anxiety caused by COVID-19 and require nurturing and reassurance to support their emotional wellbeing over the coming months, says infant and child mental health advocate, Emerging Minds.
Emerging Minds is urging Australian parents to consider the impact that coronavirus reactions and prevention measures may be having on their children, and acknowledge their concerns.
“Children’s daily lives are quickly changing, they’re being asked to wash their hands more than ever before, keep a safe distance from others, stay away from grandparents in aged care, and are seeing school camps, outings and sport cancelled,” said Emerging Minds Director Brad Morgan.
“As adults we have the potential to make sense of these necessary measures and distil facts from speculation, but our children don’t have that capacity.”
Mr Morgan said it was important for parents to have regular, open and honest conversations starting with open questions about what children are feeling and what they’re seeing and hearing.
“Children are naturally inquisitive so it’s important that parents create opportunities for them to ask questions,” he said.
“Parents should answer honestly but also in hopeful and positive ways to avoid worsening their child’s concerns. The level of detail they provide will vary depending on their child’s age and psychological and emotional maturity.
“Parents should ensure that they are using reliable sources of information about COVID-19, any misinformation their children have should be corrected, and they should discuss the measures being taken by the government, the community and what they can do as a family to help prevent the virus spreading.
Adults also need to be conscious of their own emotions, Mr Morgan says, as children are very sensitive to changes in their parent, teacher or caregiver’s mood and behaviours.
“Children are often reluctant to share their own concerns if they think they will upset the adults they rely on,” he said. “This leaves them to manage their fears and feelings on their own.
“But with positive, open interaction with trusted adults, children can work through their feelings and avoid becoming distressed, which can lead to them becoming anxious and experiencing emotional and behavioural issues.”
Emerging Minds has these tips on how parents can help their children understand the virus:
• Create time and space on a regular basis for children to ask questions, but don’t force them to talk if they don’t want to
• Maintain routines as you find a ‘new’ family rhythm – with sport and other activities being cancelled, maintain as many other routines and rituals as possible
• Celebrate newfound free time created by cancelled events to make new family experiences, such as daily walks, eating dinner together, or extra stories at bedtime – things you may not normally have fitted into busier daily routines
• Be conscious of how you talk about COVID-19 – don’t be flippant or catastrophise
• Communicate hope by talking about the actions that are being taken to prepare, to stay safe
and to recover. Talk to children about what is happening in the community, what you’re
doing at home and ways that they can help
• Limit your child’s exposure to media coverage about COVID-19 – sit with them to explain
what’s happening and how it affects you
• Make sure you are using reliable sources of information such as the Department of Health
(https://www.health.gov.au), Health Direct (https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/coronavirus) and UNICEF (https://www.unicef.org/coronavirus/covid-19). Correct any misinformation your child may receive
• Provide comfort, reassurance and support if they’re upset or feeling scared
• Give young children time to play – it’s time they use to work through their feelings
• Set up some of your own rituals around how to avoid being distracted by your phone or
other devices when you are talking, playing or spending time with your children (some parents find it helps to turn their devices on silent or off, and put them in another room when they are playing with their children so that they aren’t tempted to regularly check in or distracted when alerts pop up)
• Find ways to keep children connected with loved ones that might be unable to be close to them due to self-isolation, work or illness, such as video calls
• Before you start a conversation with your child, check in with yourself. Are you ready to talk about this? Are you prepared for questions that might come? Do you have enough accurate information? And importantly, do you have your own worries, concerns or anxiety about these events?
Information provided by Emerging Minds
Emerging Minds is dedicated to advancing the mental health and emotional wellbeing of Australian infants, children, adolescents and their families. The organisation leads the National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health. Emerging Minds develops mental health policy, services, interventions, training, programs and resources in response to the needs of professionals, children and their families. We partner with family members, national and international organisations to implement evidence-based practice into the Australian context. Our resources are freely available at www.emergingminds.com.au.
The National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health is funded by the Australian Government’s Department of Health under the National Support for Child and Youth Mental Health Program.