Coronavirus is a global pandemic. We can’t pretend that’s not alarming.
Such reactions don’t help anyone — especially not kids. Here are some ways to help kids understand coronavirus without terrifying them.
Take care of yourself
You’re best able to address your kids’ needs when you’re healthy, well-rested and present, so prioritize self-care, according to tips from the U.S. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for helping kids cope with emergencies. Eat right, exercise and get enough sleep — all the basics. If you’re feeling stressed, find ways to manage your feelings, recommends the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
Get it right
Before you talk to your kids, make sure you’re armed with accurate information from trusted sources, including government health agencies, the World Health Organization, and credible news outlets. Do your due diligence. Your kids will likely ask you questions, and the more prepared you are to answer them, the more helpful you can be.
Don’t sugarcoat ...
Of course, it depends on your child’s age, but the fact that schools and daycares are closed in many parts of the country means kids have at least some sense of what’s going on. You want to make sure they have accurate information, and that they’re not hearing rumours or misinformation from their classmates or friends.
It’s a good idea to start with what your child has already heard and then correct any misinformation, according to the newspaper Deseret News.
You can start with questions they have, according to child psychologist Janine Domingues. If you provide too much information right off the bat, that can be overwhelming.
Share accurate information with them simply and clearly, and tailor the amount of detail to what you think they can handle. That will depend on their age and how they respond to stress and difficult situations, according to the AAP.
... But make sure older kids understand the severity
It might be hard to communicate to older kids why they have to suddenly restructure their lives. Explaining some of the science might help get through to them, epidemiologist Emily Landon told Market Watch. The Washington Post’s coronavirus simulator provides a really clear and powerful explanation of how quickly the outbreak can spread.
And if science doesn’t get through to them, try this video of quarantined Italians giving advice to themselves as they were ten days ago, before their country was on lockdown. It’s a real-life glimpse into why these precautions are so important.
Underscore that it’s not about race
Make it clear to your child that even though the virus originated in China and has had outbreaks in Iran and Italy, anyone can get it, and there’s no need to treat anyone differently. If your child is Chinese or Asian or one of the other nationalities that has been severely affected, make sure they know it’s not OK for other kids to single them out or mistreat them, and that they should speak to you or a trusted adult if that happens.
Your job as a parent is to take care of your kid, so make sure your child feels taken care of. Robin H. Gurwitch of Duke University Medical Center told Deseret News that one effective way to quell a child’s fear is to offer reassurance that you’re doing everything you can to keep your family health.
She suggests saying something along the lines of, “My job as a caregiver is to make sure we do everything we can to protect you from getting sick, no matter what.”
It can also be easy for kids to get confused about what could happen versus what will happen, so make sure they understand that distinction, Gurwitch added.
The main goal is to avoid the frightening fantasies children often come up with, according to Domingues. Presenting clear, accurate information is a big part of that.
Remind kids to take precautions
It’s all about hand-washing. Make sure your kids know how important it is to regularly and thoroughly wash their hands, to sneeze into their elbow rather than their hands, and to not get too close to people who are sick.
It’s also a good idea to regularly clean surfaces that are regularly touched, like phones, toys, toilets, door handles, and TV remotes.
Even if you take the calmest, coolest, most rational approach, there’s no guarantee other parents will do the same. Whether it’s with your kids or with other parents, here are some of the points you can bring up to combat their paranoia.
Simple precautions can go a long way
Frequent and thorough hand-washing is one of the simplest and most powerful protections against the virus.
Also, everyone should be practicing social distancing. The less physical contact we have with each other, the safer we’ll all be.
Watch: What is social distancing? Story continues after video.
Though the virus is devastating and it’s important to slow its spread, many people have recovered.
As of March 17, according to the live map from John Hopkins University, more than 7,500 people have died from coronavirus. But more than ten times that number — 80,000 — have recovered.
UPDATE - Mar. 17, 2020: This post has been updated with new information about school closures and more recent stats and considerations for the COVID-19 pandemic.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost Canada.