Children are becoming more and more exposed to mainstream media and information surrounding COVID-19. This information may cause worry and fear in children. To ensure they are receiving the most reliable information, it is important for parents or guardians to sit down and discuss the current pandemic as a family. Primary Health Network Pediatrician, Dr. Corinne Brooks provides insight and advice on how to explain the pandemic to children and possible warning signs to look for in children who may be struggling with anxiety.
How do I explain to my child what COVID-19 is?
Dr. Corinne Brooks: For parents explaining the pandemic to their child, I would start with first finding out what your child already knows. Every child is different, so gage your questions depending on age and maturity level. For older children, you can ask what they’ve heard about the novel coronavirus and if they have questions. For younger children, you can ask if they have questions about the new illness that has been going around. With your answers, be open and honest. Try to remain calm and reassuring. Understand that some children may want to spend a lot of time talking about it, while others won’t have any questions and that’s OK. You can explain that this a new virus that is making some people sick. The virus is contagious, or easily spread between people, and that is why the government is closing schools and canceling events. Luckily this virus doesn’t seem to be affecting children as much as adults. I would recommend using reliable informational resources such as the CDC and healthychildren.org. Another great resource is free PDF book titled “My hero is you, storybook for children on COVID-19”. This online book aims to help children manage difficult emotions amid a rapidly changing reality and explain, in simple terms, how they can protect their friends, families and themselves during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is also a good time to review the importance of healthy habits with your child, such as good hand-washing, eating healthy and getting enough sleep.
What are possible warning signs to look for in children who may be struggling with anxiety?
Dr. Corinne Brooks: As we all try to navigate these difficult times, many parents and children are experiencing an increase in anxiety and depression. In young children, this tends to manifest as changes in behaviors and increased outbursts. In our teenagers, this may manifest as increased moodiness, feelings of inadequacy, or self-isolation. If you notice significant changes in appetite that are causing rapid changes in weight; your child has a loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy; or your child expresses feelings of worthlessness or a desire to harm themselves- then you should talk to your child’s doctor right away.