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How do we talk to Children & Young People about the Corona Virus ?
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18th March 2020

Lisa Fathers Director of Teaching School at Bright Futures Educational Trust and national trainer with Mental Health First Aid England gives some thoughts on how to talk to Children and Young People about the Coronavirus

 

It is so hard to get away from the constant media stream of worry at the moment. With schools now following the latest Government guidelines, children and adults alike are having a really uncertain time.  The majority of children and young people know they won’t see their friends for a while.   Some children will continue to go to school, but they won’t have the same routine with their teachers and fellow students.  This change of routine and perhaps not being able to see their favourite teacher is adding to the feeling of vulnerability.  At home many are asking parents questions about how this may affect their elderly relatives including grandparents.

The lack of clarity adds to raised levels on anxiety and our children have heard the terms “wide-scale disease outbreaks” and “contagious.”

Children and students have heard the directive to do ‘social distancing’ and this is making them worried too.

Some adults are scared, and children pick up on this and it can increase anxiety especially in children who are already suffering from anxiety. The constant news and repeated references to the virus do not help anyone.

We simply cannot get away from it. It feels like it is the only thing on everyone’s minds. Some children are disappointed that holidays have been cancelled, some are the children of medics and are not seeing much of their parents and some will know someone who is poorly at present.

Children and young people find the current scenario hard to process. Their narrow frame of reference and limited life experience coupled with any changes in the ‘teenage brain’ mean that feelings of being overwhelmed are quite high. They will not be able to rationalise in the way we can and may become scared about death of a loved one. If children have experienced trauma or perhaps bereavement or a significant life event before this, fear might be even more evident. This might manifest itself in behavioural challenges, a pretence that they are not interested in the ‘news’ or on the other hand the need to know as much as possible to try and make sense of it all.

The way we respond as teachers or parents needs to be driven by the very bespoke needs of the children we are with.

Here are some very general tips:

  • Get the facts. Try to avoid speculation and look up reputable sources on the outbreak.
  • Stick to usual routines- structure helps  
  • Mirror the behaviour you wish to see- calm and consistent
  • Also mirror that it is okay not to be ‘okay’ – we need to demonstrate we are human too
  • Try to anticipate distress. It is normal to feel vulnerable and overwhelmed as we read news about the outbreak. It is important to acknowledge these feelings and remind each other to look after our physical and mental health. Try to reassure people you know who may be worried. Listen to worries and explain this is a perfectly normal response to something like this
  • Be open about the Coronavirus in a factual measured way but reassure that the majority of people will be fine. Explain the facts but try to avoid over-exposure to coverage of the virus.
  • Give children/students time. We might have a million things to prioritise but children remember if we make them feel unimportant
  • Practice Mindfulness and exercise- these are the best FREE tools ever- use them daily. Try to do things you enjoy such as listening to music or dancing
  • For younger children drawing and painting shields with images on of the things we can do to protect ourselves –vitamins, fruit, sleep, exercise might help children see we have defences against these viruses
  • Getting children involved in supporting neighbours can help them feel valued and less helpless – make it an adventure
  • Ask them to look out for their friends who might be struggling
  • Try and talk about other things and think past the virus- holidays etc etc

 

These are challenging times but talking helps and so does love. We cannot hug each other at the moment, but we can show each other and our children that we care.

 

A useful list of resources can be found below:

For more detailed tips see:

mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/looking-after-your-mental-health-during-coronavirus-outbreak

 

For the latest resources developed for schools and colleges about the coronavirus including videos, resources for self-care support see:  https://www.annafreud.org/coronavirus/

A website that includes collated Coronavirus advice on staying safe and others advice in 20 different languages:  https://www.doctorsoftheworld.org.uk/news/coronavirus-information/# (approved for use by NHS England national colleagues)

For additional information and ways to look after your mental health and wellbeing during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak check out: mind.org.uk/information-support/coronavirus-and-your-wellbeing