How To Reassure Your Kids, Other Parents And Yourself About Coronavirus

Panic about coronavirus doesn’t serve anyone — especially not kids.

As a public health emergency unfolds over novel coronavirus, it’s completely natural to be nervous.

But many people have started to panic with a new, seemingly scary story daily. And with panic comes all kinds of unhelpful ideas, misinformation, and even discrimination.

Such reactions don’t help anyone — especially not kids. Here are some ways to help kids understand coronavirus without terrifying them.

Take care of yourself

You’re best able to address your kids’ needs when you’re healthy, well-rested and present, so prioritize self-care, according to tips from the U.S. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for helping kids cope with emergencies. Eat right, exercise and get enough sleep — all the basics. If you’re feeling stressed, find ways to manage your feelings, recommends the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

Get it right

Before you talk to your kids, make sure you’re armed with accurate information from trusted sources, including government health agencies, the World Health Organization, and credible news outlets. Do your due diligence. Your kids will likely ask you questions, and the more prepared you are to answer them, the more helpful you can be.

Don’t sugarcoat

Of course it depends on your child’s age, but if they’re in school, it’s likely they’ve heard about coronavirus already. You want to make sure they have accurate information, and that they’re not hearing rumours or misinformation from their classmates.

It’s a good idea to start with what your child has already heard and then correct any misinformation, according to the newspaper Deseret News.

Share accurate information with them simply and clearly, and tailor the amount of detail to what you think they can handle. That will depend on their age and how they respond to stress and difficult situations, according to the AAP.

Honest, clear conversations are good for clearing up misconceptions.
Honest, clear conversations are good for clearing up misconceptions.

Make sure kids understand it’s not about race

Make it clear to your child that even though the virus originated in China, anyone can get it, and there’s no need to treat anyone differently. If your child is Chinese or Asian, make sure they know it’s not OK for other kids to single them out or mistreat them, and that they should speak to you or a trusted adult if that happens.

Offer reassurance

Your job as a parent is to take care of your kid, so make sure your child feels taken care of. Robin H. Gurwitch of Duke University Medical Center told Deseret News that one effective way to quell a child’s fear is to offer reassurance that you’re doing everything you can to keep your family health.

She suggests saying something along the lines of, “My job as a caregiver is to make sure we do everything we can to protect you from getting sick, no matter what.”

It can also be easy for kids to get confused about what could happen versus what will happen, so make sure they understand that distinction, Gurwitch added.

“Is it possible I can contract it? Yes. Is it probable? No. The likelihood varies depending on where you live,” she said.

Remind kids to take precautions

It’s all about hand-washing. Make sure your kids know how important it is to regularly and thoroughly wash their hands, to sneeze into their elbow rather than their hands, and to not get too close to people who are sick.

"But first, wash your hands!"
"But first, wash your hands!"

Even if you take the calmest, coolest, most rational approach, there’s no guarantee other parents will do the same. Whether it’s with your kids or with other parents, here are some of the points you can bring up to combat their paranoia.

Experts say the coronavirus risk for Canadians is ‘low’

According to Canada’s Public Health Agency, the risk of novel coronavirus to Canada and to Canadian travellers is “low.” Of the four confirmed cases in Canada at time of publish, three are people who had travelled to Wuhan, China two weeks earlier, and the third is the wife of a patient.

In other words: if you haven’t been to Wuhan recently, or been in close contact with someone who has, it’s very unlikely that you’ll contract coronavirus.

Canadian kids aren’t likely to get it

Toronto-based pediatrician Dr. Dina Kulik told HuffPost Canada that she’s fielding questions about coronavirus “all day, every day.”

But she’s constantly reassuring them that “it’s not a real risk at the moment in Canada.”

It’s much more likely that children living here will get the flu, which kills about 3,500 Canadians every year, especially young people.

Watch: What Canadians should know about coronavirus. Story continues after video.

Pregnant Canadians aren’t likely to get it

It’s true that pregnant women are can be more susceptible to respiratory diseases because they have compromised immune systems. The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada urges caution to people who are pregnant.

But unless they’re exhibiting symptoms and have been to Wuhan within the last two weeks, coronavirus is unlikely, the organization said. Cold or flu symptoms are much more likely influenza.

Fetuses aren’t likely to get it

Even if a pregnant woman does get diagnosed with coronavirus, it’s very unlikely that their unborn child will be affected.

“There aren’t any respiratory viruses that we know of that cross the fetus,” Dr. Rajeev Fernando, an infectious disease expert in Southampton, N.Y., told pregnancy resource site What To Expect.

During the 2003 SARS outbreak, there were no cases of maternal to fetal transmission, according to the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada.

It isn’t spreading as quickly as SARS did

Kulik told HuffPost Canada that finds it “very reassuring” that so far, the only suspected coronavirus patients in Canada are people who have been to Wuhan recently or who have been in very close contact with someone who has. In 2003, SARS spread much more quickly and widely, but so far the coronavirus outbreak seems more contained.

Many people have recovered from coronavirus

As of Thursday, according to the live map from John Hopkins University, 171 people have died from coronavirus, the vast majority from mainland China. But getting the virus is not a death sentence: 143 have recovered from the illness.