As coronavirus sweeps across the UK, emergency plans are being drawn up that could see schools closed for at least two months.
And, with some children already being turned away in a bid to contain the virus, parents are finding themselves faced with the difficulty of knowing how best to tackle such a complex issue with their children.
British psychologists and doctors spoke to FEMAIL about the language parents should use when speaking to their sons and daughters about the virus, including how it can be described as ‘silly’ to children under nine.
The issue was also addressed on This Morning by TV psychologist Emma Kenny, who spoke about how statistics can be used to reassure older children about the potential dangers of the virus.
British psychologists and doctors shared their advice on the language parents should use – and avoid – when speaking to their sons and daughters about the virus. Stock image
START BY INFORMING YOURSELF
It sounds obvious, but parents need to be informed themselves about coronavirus before they even think about discussing it with their children, according to Dr Zoi Nikiforidou, a senior lecturer in early childhood studies at Liverpool Hope University.
Visit the Government’s Public Health England and NHS information pages and get yourself acquainted with the official, research-based advice.
Emma Kenny agreed, saying it will also help put your mind at ease, because statistically children are very unlikely to die from the virus.
She said: ‘I’ve informed myself so i know statistically that my children are really not at risk. They really aren’t and i actually know that most of us are not at risk.’
REMEMBER: CHILDREN SEE AND HEAR EVERYTHING
Dr Martina Paglia, Clinical and Counselling Psychologist and Clinic Director at the International Psychology Clinic (www.theinternationalpsychologyclinic.com), said: ‘If you are watching the news and your child is around, he has exactly the same information as you. The saying that children are like sponges absorbing the world around them is especially true of the emotional atmosphere that surrounds them.
‘No matter how hard we may try to conceal illnesses and death, children are sensitive to what surrounds them and are directly influenced by the way their parents feel about something. Therefore, if you are worried about it, your child will be too. As a parent, it’s important you learn to overcome your own anxieties to help your child face theirs.’
If your child is aged nine and under
MAKE THEM AWARE OF THE SYMPTOMS
Dr Jane Leonard said: ‘With children it’s best to keep things simple and ask them to let you know if they get a cough, feel hot or cold, or are not feeling hungry.’
How to explain school closures to your child?
Despite pleas from Health Secretary Matt Hancock not to close schools unless someone tested positive, the number closed entirely for the rest of the week reached double figures yesterday.
Among them is £19,000-a-year Dulwich Prep School in south-east London which blamed delays in NHS test results after several pupils fell ill after foreign holidays.
The issue is likely to attract a child’s attention and could become a talking point.
Dr Paglia advised addressing the issue from a protection point of view.
Dr Paglia: ‘Parents can explain that being off school and off work can protect children and adults from the silly corona virus, because if people stay at home the virus will be acting less messy.’
BE CONCRETE AND PRACTICAL
Dr Martina Paglia, Clinical and Counselling Psychologist and Clinic Director at the International Psychology Clinic, said: ‘Be concrete and practical with children under nine. Explain what they need to do to avoid catching the virus, such as washing their hands often and sneezing into a tissue, and then bin it right away.
USE LANGUAGE THEY CAN UNDERSTAND
Dr Paglia said: ‘Explain that the virus is very little and cannot be seen by humans but that scientists can see the virus using a microscope. Tell them that the virus is acting silly and likes people so much, that’s why it’s so popular right now.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO TALK ABOUT DEATH
Dr Paglia said: ‘Death is an essential part of our lives, it’s important to talk about it with children. After all, for everything in life there is always a beginning and an end.
‘Try to address potential fatalities in a way your child can understand and relate too. Also make sure you explain that the virus likes adults a lot but does not like children that much, so they should not be too worried about it.’