Now that schools are closed and the daily routine has changed, how should we tell children about the coronavirus and what should we say? Rule number one: don't speak or act in ways that betray anxiety.
Adults should be sure that they have obtained sufficient, reliable information before they begin to discuss the coronavirus with children. When speaking with children, be calm and direct and maintain a healthy balance between explaining why many people are getting sick and reassuring your children that there are many hospitals and experts in Italy. Remember to explain that children are less affected than adults, very few children under age 15 get sick. Those who do get sick only have a cough and a stuffy nose, because younger people have a more efficient immune system. The most important thing is to convey confidence.
It's best to discuss these things in the morning since night-time always tends to be scary. An added benefit of approaching the topic in the morning is that kids have all day to process what they've heard and ask questions.
Discussing something like the seasonal flu, which children have already experienced, can be useful. Kids know what it means to have a cold, a sore throat or a fever and will easily understand that COVID-19 is spread by contact with other people and by staying in crowded areas. Of course, you will also need to explain that this is a new situation, a new virus, so there's no medicine or vaccine available (children will already have had experienced those "special" shots). Remember to tell them that there are experts who are working as "superheroes" to find a solution and defeat the virus.
Explain that there's no reason to be afraid, but that being careful and following some simple instructions is important:
wash your hands well every time you go to the bathroom or sneeze or cough: show children how to wash their hands well - there are several kid-friendly videos online - and for a sufficient amount of time (they should sing through the "Happy birthday to you..." song twice).
Stay home: another important rule is to not spread the virus to avoid getting a lot of people sick and especially to protect weaker people, like people who are already sick or who are very old and might have a hard time healing. That's why, even though school is closed for these "special" days, we need to stay home as much as possible and only go out for basic needs (like shopping or going to work).
Keep an eye on how much your children are exposed to news about the virus. Prevent overexposure and excessive updates on the situation. We mustn't forget that children are like sponges, they absorb everything they see. We need to set a positive example for them by complying with Ministerial decrees, but without any drama.
Try to set aside some quiet time to discuss the situation with your kids calmly. Listen to all their questions, even when they're repetitive or contradictory, and answer sincerely. Avoid going into too much detail, which could fuel anxiety. Be accepting of their doubts and fears, even if they seem excessive: what matters most is to be present and offer stability. Be on the lookout for any signs of fear or anxiety, such as changes in behaviour or psychosomatic reactions. Younger children may regress a little. They may want to sleep in the big bed, for example, or may get into trouble just to focus attention on themselves and away from the virus everyone's talking about.
Try to keep the everyday routine as ordinary as possible. If they are old enough for school, morning hours should be dedicated to homework, while afternoons can be used for play. Drawing or do-it-yourself projects are important. Taking pictures of the projects and sharing them with grandparents or aunts and uncles is a particularly good idea. Reassure your children and try to maintain your ordinary schedule, have dinner at the same time each evening, watch a film together, put them to bed and wake them up at a predictable hour. Where possible encourage some outdoor activities (in your own garden), alternate between structured games and free play. Find ways to keep your kids in touch with friends and family by using digital media.
Make the most of this crisis to have family time together and enjoy being able to spend more time with your children. Having a positive attitude helps both the individual and the whole family and creates a virtuous cycle that strengthens and benefits everyone.
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