T portal: “We asked the psychologist what to say to the children about the coronavirus: ‘Encourage them to talk because avoiding this topic’ so we don’t burden them ‘can be much more harmful”

T-Portal journalist Elma Katana spoke with Zagreb Child and Youth Protection Center’s psychologist Ella Selak Bagarić about how to talk to children about the coronavirus, and a text titled “CALMLY AND WITHOUT PANIC: We asked the psychologist what to say to children about coronavirus: ‘Encourage them to talk because avoiding you and the topics’ so we do not burden them ‘can be much more harmful’ was published on the T portal on March 12, 2020:

“Coronavirus has, unfortunately, become the most common topic of all conversations, and psychologist Ella Selak Bagaric on behalf of the Zagreb Child and Youth Protection Center says parents need to talk to children about the spread of the world.

At a time when everyone is talking about coronavirus, when no news or chat goes on without talking about its spread, even young children are not expected to know that there is a disease that many adults worry about. The information that children ‘absorb’ from the environment can be from the media, from peers, teachers… understand it or not, children can certainly recognize emotions in their environment. For this reason, let’s not wait for our child to come up with questions – encourage him or her to talk. Avoiding the topic, on the other hand, can send the child the implicit message that the problem is too scary and that we are hiding something from them, and the child’s worries can then be even more intense. Avoiding talking to your child “so we don’t burden them” can be a lot more damaging than ignoring the situation, even if it makes us uncomfortable. Children can have a distorted picture, misunderstand what they hear, which certainly affects the way they feel. Encouraging a conversation with a child is a chance for the parent to correct the possible misinformation that the child has, but also to show him or her how they can count on parents and ask parents everything that concerns them” she warns.

Parents should also be aware that while the child has not developed specific coronavirus-related fears, some indicators of childhood anxiety often occur indirectly.

‘Children also fear for their parents, and it is possible that they will seek more closeness, call mom and dad more often while they are at work, or develop sudden fears – such as nightmares, so they can go to their parents’ bed, look for light, may have nightmares or start getting wet in bed. They may also overreact to something that seems trivial to you. But it is important to be patient with them and stick to your usual routine as much as possible. Parents should encourage the child to speak openly about their thoughts and fears. If the child is upset, direct him or her to recognize how he or she is feeling. Sit down, leave everything you do and talk about what’s going on. Children see their parents as their protector, and they need to know that this will not change, even during the global health crisis. I am here, I will protect you and I love you – messages that every child needs” says Ella Selak Bagarić, master of psychology.

Parents should consider talking to children about coronavirus, taking into account their age and stage of development, using only words that the child already understands.

Talking to your child

‘Start a conversation with what the kids already know about other illnesses and upgrade the conversation accordingly. Be honest – if a child asks a question and you don’t know the answer, it’s actually helpful to admit it. It’s okay to say, “That’s a great question and I’ll try to get more information.” Remind your children that experienced doctors, scientists, and professionals work hard to help those who are ill, but also to protect the healthy one. The goal of the conversation is to provide the child with support, information and to show that we are there for them. When children know that we are willing to talk, there is a better chance that they will contact us when they need support’ adds Selak Bagaric.

Talking to a preschooler

Children under the age of 6 do not need much detail like the name of the virus or information about the global threat of the disease because they are too young to understand it.

‘Keep parents’ explanations as brief and clear as possible. Watch out for the conversations you have with your partner or older children in front of your little ones. You can talk to them about what we can do to stay healthy, like washing our hands. Pre-school-age children should be discussed primarily with hygiene and healthy habits. They probably hear this every year when the season is flu and should not be particularly bothered. Your child may already see individuals wearing face masks in everyday places and asking you about it, you can say, ‘She thinks this is the best way to stay healthy. That’s why we make sure we wash our hands often’ the psychologist adds.

School-age children should be explained how the virus spreads and what we can do to protect themselves

School children are more likely to hear the word ‘coronavirus’, says a psychologist.

‘Now parents can tell the child some facts and solutions. For example, a parent might say this is a virus that appears to be spreading rapidly in humans and is occurring in countries around the world. The best way to prevent this is to wash your hands and stay in the house if we are feeling sick, but also to avoid places where there is a big crowd. So, the conversation focuses on information about what it is, how the virus spreads, but also on ways to prevent it. The prevention tips that are recommended for coronavirus are the same as for any other viruses and colds, so discuss the steps you will take to try to prevent all diseases. A great way to empower children in an outbreak situation is to show them what they can do to not get sick – and thus implement healthy household habits. This also helps them to have a sense of control. Give the children a frame of reference based on their past experiences with the disease to understand how COVID-19 manifests in most people – colds, sniffles, fatigue, etc. You can remind them of a time when they were previously ill and then healed. It is also important to tell children that not every coughing or sneezing means that someone has received a coronavirus. A good start to the conversation might be, for example, ‘Everyone is talking about the coronavirus today, tell me what you heard’; ‘How does that sound to you / how does it look to you? Is there anything you would like to ask me?’ she emphasize.

Refer teenagers to non-trusted sources, not to seek information on social networks

With teenagers, Selak Bagaric says, in conversation, bring information and facts you know and empower them to seek information from trusted sources, not social media, for example.

‘Together seek answers to the questions that interest them. There is a lot of uncertainty about this virus that can cause anxiety for a child. If teenager is concerned about a coronavirus outbreak, listen to them patiently and remind them of their previous experiences with uncertain challenges and how they dealt with it. Come back to a challenging time for a family they can remember, with the message that you are still together, with a positive message and a focus on measures they can take themselves to not get sick. If kids say they don’t care at this age, well that’s okay. Respect that, but still talk about the recommendations of health professionals” she says.

Be focused on the current state, here and now, not ‘what if’

The time between dinner and going to sleep is a moment many parents like to use to talk to their children about everything they experienced that day, she adds.

‘Talk to the children at such a time, when you both  have time, when nothing is interfering with you, and when your child has your full attention. Be focused on the current situation, here and now, even if you are thinking ‘what if’ to yourself. Emphasize that you are there – and truly be. In fact, this is something that, with the catastrophic messages we are exposed today, we really need. Having someone we trust who will comfort us with our tone of voice and calm while caring for the health of our parents, grandparents and ours, but also reflect on the global impact and destiny of some distant children we don’t even know the name of. The positive thing these situations bring is a reminder of how vulnerable we are actually as humans, but also often emotionally under-connected. As we now anxiously call senior members of our family, let us become aware of how much time we actually spend together, truly present in the moment with our loved ones. We only remember certain values ​​when we realize that they are threatened, so call, write, and talk to people around you. We see today that the health of others in the world is very much affecting all of us, and we are in this challenge wherever we are – together” said Selak Bagaric.

The idea of ​​an epidemic in both adults and children, she warns, can cause feelings of anxiety and fear.

‘It is important for us to show in the conversation with the children that we also recognize their concerns so that instead of saying ‘you don’t have to worry’ we encourage the child to express and recognize what he or she is feeling. If your child has intense difficulty, consult a specialist for additional support’ concludes the psychologist.”

Source: T portal: https://www.tportal.hr/lifestyle/clanak/pitali-smo-psihologinju-sto-reci-djeci-o-koronavirusu-potaknite-ih-na-razgovor-jer-izbjegavanje-te-teme-kako-ih-ne-bismo-opterecivali-moze-biti-puno-stetnije-20200312


Disclaimer: This is unofficial translation provided for information purposes. Zagreb Child and Youth Protection Center can not be held legally responsible for any translation inaccuracy.   

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