COVID-19 storyline to children may escalate fear & anxiety

There is so much information circulating regarding COVID-19 and how to position it with children. Some of the information attempts to ‘break-down’ detailed information about the virus to a level for children to understand. It is very important that adults communicate with children regarding COVID-19 and that the the level of information is tailored appropriately for each age group.

Children have colourful imaginations and often fill in facts with their own story line. Presently the world of a pre-schooler and young school-aged children, has changed as it has for all of us . The lack of routine and “sameness” rocks the boat of our pre-schoolers and young children’s lives. This places them on higher alert, and they might start to ponder i.e. what might happen next? When pre-schoolers and young school-aged children have too many facts, or see red little corona virus germs , this can start a storyline in their minds such as being attacked by these monsters? Are they in the cupboard when I go to sleep or under my bed? It is important for adults to keep their storyline simple so that our pre-schooler’s and young children’s storyline about the virus and what is happening in their world, doesn’t escalate fear and anxiety.

Below are some tips to help pre-schoolers and young school-aged children cope with COVID-19:

1. Give children an opportunity to ask questions in a relaxed manner. This will minimise “scary” thoughts.

2. Talk to children in an age appropriate way. Don’t give too much information i.e. don’t talk about how the virus got here, what it looks like, deaths etc. One example would be to say, “Coronavirus is like a cold and most children don’t get very sick. We can help to stop it from getting to our friends and family by washing our hands, coughing into our arm, and sneezing into a tissue”.

3. Be aware not to transmit your anxiety onto children; be a calm role model.

4. Children may ask questions like, “why can’t I have a birthday party or why can’t I see my grandparents?”
Sample response, “there is a cold going around. So that the cold doesn’t spread to our friends and family we have to stay home for a while. It’s like when it’s raining, and we can’t go to the park. We have to await until the rain stops. Now we have to wait until the cold passes. Then we will all be able to have fun together.

5. Keep children connected to friends and family online. Feeling isolated can create anxiety and depression.

6. Reassure children this will pass.

7. Focus on action plans i.e. practice washing your hands while you sing the ‘happy birthday’ song twice. This helps children to feel empowered and safe.

8. Stick to a routine. A predictable environment assists children to feel safe.

9. Stop children’s exposure to news coverage and hearing adults talking about COVID-19.

10. Provide physical activities.

11. Be sure to have “spoonfuls of fun” in every day!

Robyn Taylor
BA(Macq), MA(Syd), Dip Clinical Psychology(Syd)