2020 has been a challenging year so far, especially for people living in Australia. We began with destructive Bushfires and skies filled with smoke, then the fire relief led to destructive storms and flooding. Now, only in the third month, we are contending with a Global Pandemic, the Covid-19 outbreak.

The situation is changing rapidly and we are now being advised to keep our children home if possible from school and most sporting activities have been cancelled. This is a stressful time for families trying to cope with rapidly changing social and work situations and children and teens will be impacted too.

Keeping mindful of the fact that we are all under increased stress, it is important to look after our emotional wellbeing for our benefit and for our children. We need to be able to regulate our own emotions and behaviour before we can assist our children to regulate. Model being calm and confident about our current situation and make decisions together as a family based on current advice from reliable sources.

Ask Questions, Know the Facts & Be Truthful

Talk to your children, at an age appropriate level, about the Coronavirus (COVID-19).  Don't jump in to big explanations - but start by finding out what your child already knows.  Ask questions geared to your child's age level. For older kids, you might ask, "Are people in school talking about coronavirus? What are they saying?" For younger children, you could say, "Have you heard grownups talking about a new sickness that's going around?" They may have heard things that aren't correct, which could be causing further anxiety, so asking questions helps you identify what they already know.

If you have really young children, this simple storybook might be a great way to explain Coronavirus to them.

Follow your child's lead. Some kids may want to spend time talking. But if your kids don't seem interested or don't ask a lot of questions, that's OK. Let it go for now. Don't force a conversation if your child isn't engaged or ready to listen.

Knowing the facts, including what they can do to help reduce the spread the virus can give them a sense of control. Limit their exposure to news and social media where they may come across frightening misinformation and help them to learn how to find accurate information. 

Have you seen this video? It's a great example of how to wash hands properly!

Hand Washing Video

If your child asks about something and you don't know the answer, say so. This is a "new" virus, and we don't have all the answers. It's OK to say "The doctors and scientists are still learning about this virus, so we don't have all the answers yet"

If you are staying home, create a routine for the family to maintain as many “normal” activities as possible. Consistency, Predictability and Routine are the building blocks for helping children to feel secure and safe, particularly those who have experienced trauma in the past. Make up a home routine to follow that includes learning activities, time for play, relaxation and exercise – many schools are preparing to support online learning and are providing educational resources to keep minds busy.

Give kids space to share their fears. It's natural for kids to worry, "Could I be next? Could that happen to me?" Let your child know that kids don't seem to get as sick as adults. Let them know they can always come to you for answers or to talk about what scares them.

Help Kids Feel in Control

Give your child specific things they can do to feel in control. Teach kids that getting lots of sleep and washing their hands well and often can help them stay strong and well. Explain that regular hand washing also helps stop viruses from spreading to others. Be a good role model and let your kids see you washing your hands often!

Talk about all the things that are happening to keep people safe and healthy. Young kids might be reassured to know that hospitals and doctors are prepared to treat people who get sick. Older kids might be comforted to know that scientists are working to develop a vaccine. These talks also prepare kids for changes in their normal routine.

Help them manage their disappointment when things get postponed - With lots of sports, activities and parties being postponed, they are sure to feel some effects of this. Help reassure them that "postponing" things doesn't mean they won't happen, and it's just rescheduling to a later date. Remind them that this gives them something to look forward to. 

Kids and teens often worry more about family and friends than themselves. For example, if kids hear that older people are more likely to be seriously ill, they might worry about their grandparents. Letting them call or Facetime with older relatives can help them feel reassured about loved ones.

Keep the Conversation Going

Keep checking in with your child. Use talking about coronavirus as a way to help kids learn about their bodies, like how the immune system fights off disease

Reassure your children that they are safe and that it is normal to feel stressed. Talk about how they are feeling and find ways to regulate your emotions together – go for a walk, listening to calming music, practice deep breathing or mindfulness together and make this part of your daily routine.

Keeping a positive mindset such as considering the extra time together as an opportunity to slow down and connect will help everyone make the best of the current situation.

Stay safe.