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Coronavirus: How to tell a child about the outbreak

With the number of coronavirus patients rising around the world, children are being exposed to information and misinformation from many sources. How can parents best keep them up to date without terrifying them?

“Will I get sick?”

“Will my school close?”

“Will grandma or granddad die?”

Coronavirus is dominating the news and children, as always, are asking direct, difficult questions about what’s going to happen.

While the risk of young people being seriously affected by the virus appears low, doom-laden social media posts and playground rumours can induce panic.

Stories of deaths, possible food shortages and school closures, and the circulation of phrases like “pandemic potential” can add to a sense of alarm.

Keeping control

So tone is vital when discussing coronavirus with a child, advises Angharad Rudkin, clinical psychologist and consultant on the parenting book What’s My Child Thinking?

“We all enjoy scare stories to a degree, but we don’t like to hear them quite so much when they’re a bit closer to home,” she says. “Help your child put some distance between them and the threat by giving information about how coronavirus is spread and what we can do to help minimise the risk such as using loads of lovely bubbles when washing our hands.”

Media captionChildren’s coronavirus questions – answered

Covid-19 is a respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus which seems to start with a fever, followed by a dry cough. After about a week, it leads to shortness of breath and some patients require hospital treatment.

Medics aren’t sure exactly how it spreads from person to person, but similar viruses do so via droplets, such as those produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

It’s essential to talk to a child about things he or she can control, such as disposing of tissues and personal hygiene, Dr Rudkin says, rather than those they cannot.

Once the explanation is over, the conversation should move on to something that “isn’t threatening, such as what they had for lunch or who do they think is going to win the football match this evening”, she adds.

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