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How to speak to your children about the coronavirus

Parents should be mindful of the discussions they have about the virus in front of their children.

Image: Shutterstock

A STUDENT AT a Dublin school is the first confirmed case of the Covid-19 virus and his school has been closed for the next two weeks as a precaution.

With news and public discussion dominated by the coronavirus, children are now starting to talk about it in school with their friends and teachers and at home with their parents.

Last Saturday, it emerged that a student at Scoil Chaitríona in Glasnevin, Dublin 9 has the virus. The Department of Education has issued general advice for schools, including posters to encourage children to throw away their used tissues and wash their hands. 

Last night, a second case of the virus was confirmed. The HSE said a woman in the east of the country had been diagnosed with Covid-19. However, it was stressed that there is no link between her illness and the case in the school.

Child and adolescent psychotherapist Colman Noctor said stories like this tend to filter down to children quickly with such a high level of public discourse on the issue.

“Ordinarily we want to protect the innocence of children, so we don’t tell them about certain news stories but when it comes to the hand washing advice with this, children are normally villains for contagion,” he said.

“So we feel the need to tell them about hand washing without alarming them. We have to try to inform them without overwhelming them or overburdening them.

Each child will have different temperaments, for those prone towards anxiety, less is more in terms of information. They may need a little bit of reassurance. So explain what the coronavirus is, it’s a thing that spreads when you don’t wash your hands, explain in the majority of cases that when you’re fit and well it’s not going to kill you, you’ll be sick as if you have the flu for two weeks and then you’re fine after that.

He said parents should try to be “very measured, calm but informative to try to avoid the hysteria”.

Noctor said it is better for children to hear it from their parents than from another child at school who may be alarmist about the topic.

Though he said it won’t be possible to avoid children hearing news coverage about the virus, parents should be conscious of their own neuroses, particularly when it comes to discussions about stocking up on supplies of food or face masks.

“We’re aware of why we’re building a bunker under the house for a shortage of supplies, that’s your prerogative but it’s not necessary to make your children overly aware of it.

Childhood is an introduction to reality so when you introduce reality to a child it’s about pacing it at a level they can manage.


Play therapist Myriam Clancy from Cork said children have started to speak about the coronavirus in sessions. 

“With children, it helps to give them very concrete information, tell them that it’s something people are talking about which seems scary but generally it’s not children who are getting it, it affects very old people or those who are already very sick,” she said.

If they’re still distressed after that information, it’s about allowing them to feel that way. And having a conversation where you tell them you’ve noticed they’re really worried even though it’s not likely to affect a young person and you can see they still feel it’s scary. 

“We tend to dismiss children when we’re talking about these things but we should be allowing them to express it. No matter how much we reassure children, they might still be anxious about things.”

Clancy said it may also help children if they are told of ways of protecting themselves, so they can feel more in control of the situation.

“So you can tell them that scientists have said the best way to prevent any illnesses is to wash your hands and maybe you could make up a song together about washing hands,” she suggested.  

“If you’ve had these discussions with the child and you find they’re becoming almost obsessive with the anxiety around this, there could be something deeper there.

“Allow them to express the anxiety, don’t shut it down, but if it continues to be a big issue you should speak to your GP.” 

If you’re concerned or curious about something in relation to Covid-19, send your question to answers@thejournal.ie and we’ll do our best to find out for you.  

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