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Talking to your kids about coronavirus

It can be tricky as a parent or carer to know how much to tell your kids about what’s going on in the world. It’s natural to want to keep them away from bad news and let them get on with being kids. You might have found it hard deciding how much to tell them about the coronavirus pandemic.

But children are more aware than we sometimes think. So it’s good that they learn about what’s going on from the person they trust most in the world, which is you. And it’s important that they know the rules and guidelines as they are designed to help them protect themselves and others. We’ve put together some tips to help you support them.

How do I talk to my children about changes to COVID-19 protection measures?

One of the hardest parts of this year has been the changing restrictions. All decisions are made based on the best scientific advice at the time, but it doesn’t make it any easier. Both you and your children may find the changing restrictions hard to deal with. There’s no easy way to explain this to them, but you could say that unfortunately the virus hasn't gone away, and we need to stay at home and limit the number of people we meet with in order to prevent it from spreading any further. 

If you have teenage children, they may well be feeling frustrated by the restrictions. Young people often feel invincible from danger and don’t always think ahead about the consequences of what they do, so may be more tempted to bend the rules. Rather than yelling at them about it, try some of these tips on our page on parenting a teen when you talk them.

Tips on talking to your children about coronavirus

Tip #1: Stay up to date with the latest advice

Before you talk to your wee ones, make sure you know the latest news and guidance about coronavirus. There's lots of fake news out there, so it's best to stick to sources you can trust, like the NHS and Scottish Government websites. 

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Tip #2: Don’t be afraid to bring it up

You might feel that your child is unaware of what’s going on. But just because they haven’t brought it up with you doesn’t mean they aren’t thinking about it, or that they aren't worried.

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Tip #3: Choose a calm moment

Pick a moment when you and your kids aren’t stressed, in a hurry or hungry and you have time to talk things through properly. Some younger children especially will like to sit close to you or have a hug while you speak to them. It’s okay for you to admit you’re worried, but try not to let them see you panic. That way they’ll see that you think these worries are things that can be managed. It may help to talk to someone else about any worries you have first, before you speak to them.

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Tip #4: Think about how much they need to know

How much you tell them depends on how old your child is. You know your children best, so only explain as much as you think they need to know. If you have more than one child, what you say to your older kids may be different to what you say to your youngest. You might want to remind the older children to look after the little ones and all think together about how to manage any worries.

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Tip #5: Listen to their concerns

Be careful not to dismiss anything they’re worried about. They may understand it better than you think and their concerns will be real. Calmly reassure them that it’s okay to be worried but that for most people it’s a mild illness. Keep the information simple and factual. Remind them that you’ve all had colds and other illness before and recovered.

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Tip #6: Tell them how they can help

Make sure they know the importance of washing their hands and that by doing this they’re helping fight the virus. And this helps keep other people safe too. Everyone should wash their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds – the time it takes to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice – or why not let them pick a different song? Give them praise for washing their hands well. You could say: ‘I really like the way you remembered to wash your thumb’ or ‘That was a great song to choose and I really liked the way to concentrated on washing your hands whilst you were singing so loudly’. There are lots of funny videos online of children and adults washing their hands.

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Tip #7: Try not to avoid difficult questions

If they’re worried about granny or other at-risk relatives or friends, ignoring their concerns won’t make them go away. Let them know you are also thinking about this and explain everything you’re doing to help keep granny safe. If possible, let them join in with video chats with relatives or friends. Don’t make promises that can’t be kept, but do let them know that you and other adults they love have support from other people, so they don’t need to feel responsible.

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Tip #8: Make sure they know you’re there for them

They may have more questions or worries. Let them know you are happy to talk about anything. Remind them of the things that help them when they’re feeling scared. This could be family games, story books, a favourite film or a big hug. We all manage stress better when we feel like we have ways of managing fear and anxiety.

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Tip #9: Let them know about the good news

Talk to them about all the positive kind things people are doing for each other during this time.

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Playing helps too

Playing isn’t just fun for kids, it also helps them make sense of the world around them. If you see your wee one putting a facemask on her teddy or building a hospital out of bricks, this is just their way of making sense of the world around them.

Playing is a key part of their development so don’t feel guilty when they play. Even the simplest games they play could be helping them stay emotionally healthy during this tough time.

How do I talk to the kids about having to stay at home?

Your kids will now again be spending more time at home than they usually would. Although you can meet up with friends and family, it’s still good to keep in touch with them on the phone, by email or via video chat as well. If you’re not sure how to set up a video call, there’s a useful guide from the BBC here. Visit the ParentZone website which has some fun online activities children can do to keep in touch with their grandparents. The activities will work with their other friends too.

You can find more information on coronavirus guidelines for children and meeting up with other households here.

This is a strange time for kids, so reassure them that this won’t last forever.

Remember, you protect your kids all the time

Try not to feel overwhelmed. You’ve protected them from many day to day risks already – every time they cross a road, for a start! You help them do that safely all the time! By following the official advice you’ll help keep them safe now, too. 

Looking after yourself during the coronavirus pandemic

It’s okay to feel scared, but try not to panic or feel overwhelmed. Make sure you give yourself time to do the things that help you relax and feel happy, as well as thinking about these things for your children.

We have some useful advice on looking after you and your child’s mental health during this time:

You can also find advice on the Mind website about coronavirus and your wellbeing.

Information in BSL

You can find information on coronavirus in British Sign Language (BSL) on the Parentzone Scotland website.