Given the international health-crisis situation (so declared by the World Health Organization) we believe that children have the right to know what is happening around them, always keeping in mind their developmental stage. Even though young children don’t have fully developed language skills, it can be very useful to put in into words and speak about what is going on, offering precise information in a simple and empathic manner.
Whit this in mind, we’d like to share with you some recommendations on how to speak to children about coronavirus and everything that surrounds it. We also want to offer you some ideas that might help you reassure and give confidence to the children, in order to promote their emotional and affective wellbeing, the basis of their development.
Here are some aspects that we consider important when explaining complex situations to children between three and six years old:
-WHAT TO EXPLAIN ABOUT CORONAVIRUS?
When we speak to children about the complex situation we are going through, we must keep calm and confident and, above all, explain without alarming the children. We must inform the children on the reality, adapting what we say to their age and their comprehension capacity. We will tell the younger children a more simplified version, and a more complex version to the older ones, when they need to know more.
Firstly, we can ask the children what they know about coronavirus.
- It’s important to keep in mind that we should always start at their level. Not to answer unasked questions or give more information than they need. The interests and questions they make can guide the way and the degree of information we give them. Once we know what information they have and what they are curious about we will know what to tell them. When we answer keeping their demands in mind we guarantee that the information we give them is in keeping with their cognitive and emotional stages and that it will be well received.
- We should keep in mind that there is information about the crisis that the children don’t need to know. The harsher details of the situation, like the number of deaths, the uncertainties of the near future, people’s despair… The starker reality is part of the adult world and it isn’t part of what the younger children need to know.
If you don’t know where to start, here are some ideas:
- You can begin by speaking about viruses, explaining how they are part of our daily lives, and that they have always and will always be around us. It’s always good to reference a first hand experience and bring up situations the children have lived, if they can remember a viral process they have passed and can remember. This way they can access the abstract (our explanation) through the concrete (their experience).
- You can tell older children that coronavirus is a very new virus and that scientists are studying it. It’s also important to speak about the spreading, that this is a very contagious virus when people are very close to each other and that is why we have spent so many days at home.
– WHAT LANGUAGE SHOULD WE USE?
We must use appropriate language to the child’s age and knowledge. The language should be precise and real, to avoid confusion and to communicate the truth. Words like: virus, coronavirus, illness, confinement… are words that the children hear, they are already around them and we shouldn’t change or simplify them when we address the children. We recommend calling it “virus” and not “bug” for example.
– COMMUNICATE FROM THE TRUTH (NOT LYING)
- When children ask questions it’s important to answer with the truth, adapting to their reality and cognitive capacity but always with honesty. Sometimes adults want to protect children from pain and we don’t tell them the truth, we are insincere and hide what is really happening.
- It’s important to tell the truth, even when what we have to say is not pleasant and may generate frustration, discomfort or sadness. Children are prepared to transit different emotions and we must remain available and supportive.
– AVOID EXPOSURE TO MEDIA NEWS
The information provided by the media is made for an adult audience, not a child one. That is why they should have no exposure to it. The information media provides at this moment is very alarming; the images may have a great impact on younger children and may lead their imagination to scenes of terror.
– FOCUS ON CARE, PREVENTION AND EMPOWERING OF CHILDREN
- At the moment we know that one way we have to help is to focus on health and prevention. We can show the children basic hygiene measures that help us be healthier like washing our hands frequently, sneezing and coughing into our elbow, blowing our noses with disposable tissues and immediately getting rid of them, not touching our faces, trying not to touch people we meet, etc.
- Adults are models to children, especially through our actions. That’s why it’s important that we internalize these good practices before teaching them to children. These measures will be part of our daily lives for the foreseeable future so it’s important that children start familiarizing themselves with them and collaborating within their capabilities.
Here are some ideas about emotional support you may want to keep in mind during these days:
– SAFEGUARDING CHILDREN’S SAFETY SPACE
- During the first years of life and to promote a healthy development of self-esteem and confidence, children should grow up feeling that the world is a good and safe space. It’s important to transmit to them a sense of confidence and optimism despite the current situation. If children show fear or concern we can reassure them with the known facts: we are together and we are taking measures to take good care of each other.
- We can tell older children how health professionals are working to understand better the virus, looking for treatments and taking care of the sick.
– SENSE OF COMMUNITY
We can focus on the fact that we’re spending so much time at home to take care of each other, so the virus doesn’t spread too quickly and health workers can do their job. Transmit directly or indirectly that we’re staying home for other people’s health as well as our own and to contribute to humanity’s wellbeing. This way we promote the sense of community and the ethical and social value of our actions.
– EMOTIONAL SUPPORT
- Children may be more sensitive, irritable and have more anger explosions than normal during these days. We may also feel this way because of the current uncertainty. Despite the difficulties, it’s important to remain empathetic and to be more understanding than ever, also with ourselves.
- It’s important to accept and validate children’s emotions, whatever they may be. If they our presence and acceptance, when possible. Children need to cry, shout, hit a cushion etc. We have to provide a safe space for them to do this, accompanying them with our presence and acceptance, when possible. We can help them by naming their emotions, validating what they’re feeling and providing vocabulary for the future.
– ABOUT THE ILLNESS AND DEATH
- The current situation may inspire any interest or doubts about death in older children. It’s a good time to speak about it if they need to and to answer questions they may have. It’s especially important to keep in mind the premise: we shouldn’t give them information they don’t ask for; we should just answer their questions.
- We should keep in mind the importance of keeping open channels of communication within our daily lives and offer the view of death as a part of life. Speak about natural cycles, how every living being dies. Take advantage of the natural processes and your own experiences; bumping into a dead animal or insect, for example, may prompt a natural conversation about death.
- As we mentioned earlier, children perceive what we say (or even what we don’t say but express an opinion on through body language and silences) about emotional and spiritual issues. The mind isn’t fully developed in younger children so we should always communicate with them from the truth. If we have an ill relative who’s life could be in danger, we should tell the children. We should tactfully prepare them for what’s coming. It’s important to tell them if someone’s death is close so they can say goodbye. Pain is unavoidable when facing death. In such a case, our goal isn’t to avoid pain but to be present and to accompany their emotion.
We want to share with you Elisenda Pascual’s video (psychologist, specialist in mindful parenting and director of Acompanyament Familiar), where she offers a practical way of explaining to the children the different degrees of illness and death using fingers. If you know anyone with the illness this may help you explain the stage or delicacy of their situation. This kind of resource can be very useful when explaining such an abstract idea to young children who are not yet equipped to grasp it.
Link to the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uL0r7hcfN9o&t=23s
Stories can help symbolize the situation. Here are some books for children and adults that you might find helpful:
Stories for children about death, grieving and loss:
- Always and forever. Alan Durant, Debi Glori. Editorial Timun Mas.
- The memory tree. Britta Teckentrup. Editorial Orchard Books.
- Grandad’s island. Benji Davies. Editorial Andana.
- I miss you. Paul Verrept. Editorial Joventut.
- L’avi d’en Tom ha mort. Marie-Aline Bawin i Colette Hellings. Editorial Esin.
For adults: “I jo també em morire´?” by Xusa Serra i Llanas.
We would also like to share an article about how to offer support when children experience fear by Veronica Antón from Senda Educació Viva – Acompanyament familiar. It’s a very complete document where we find an explanation on how fear can take different forms in children and how to accompany them.
Link to the article:
The ideas presented here are fruit of a collective reflection of many professionals who shared them. We hope you find it useful during these difficult times. We want to thank you for your trust and to remind you that we remain at your disposal for anything you need.
- Costa, Mariona. (30 març 2020) L’ofici d’educar. El Suplement de Catalunya Ràdio. El confinament pot tenir efectes psicològics en nens, adolescents o nadons? Recuperat de: https://www.ccma.cat/catradio/lofici-deducar/quins-efectes-psicologics-pot-tenir-el-confinament-en-nens-adolescents-i-nadons/noticia/3000819/
- Pas d’Infant (1 maig 2020) Cómo explicar situaciones difíciles a niños y niñas. Recuperat de: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0JUIiwWKwMY
- Pascual, Elisenda (8 abril 2020) ¿Cómo hablar con las criaturas sobre la enfermedad y la muerte? Recuperat de: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uL0r7hcfN9o
- Pascual, Elisenda (13 abril 2020) ¿Cómo acompañar el MIEDO de las criaturas en el confinamiento? Recuperat de: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AHODc81Z0oA&t=184s
- Pascual, Elisenda (26 abril 2020) ¿Cómo salir del confinamiento? Recuperat de: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KVVyZCuXvoA&t=1278s
- Unidad de crisis de Barcelona. Abordaje integral en trauma, crisis, estrés, y conflictos. Hospital Sant Joan de Déu de Barcelona i Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. (27 febrer 2020) Com podem parlar sobre el coronavirus als infants? Recuperat de: https://faros.hsjdbcn.org/ca/articulo/com-podem-parlar-sobre-coronavirus-als-infants
Translated by: Laura Hernández