Ana Raguž, Psychologist from the Center, wrote for Miss7Mama column ” Will Grandma and Grandpa Be OK ?: How to Explain to a Child Why People Are In Self-Isolation”, released March 21, 2020.:
“Breaking news, precautions, measures of self-isolation, instructions about new behaviors and routines, daily conversations about corona virus, information of illnesses and deaths statistics in the last few weeks are topics that we mostly hear and discuss.
Not only in adults, but also in children, the uncertainty we feel awakens the feelings and experiences of insecurity, fear, worry and anxiety. Unfortunately, experts and epidemiologists still not have answers how the corona virus affects our body and what exactly awaits us in the coming period.
However, using their adopted coping skills in corona virus situation adults deal with step by step. On the other hand, without the help of adults children, especially preschools and young school age do not have the capacity to cope adequately. In their heads, children live a completely different life at the same time – they don’t have to go to school, attend online school and live a completely insecure life – they see on the news, they hear in conversations that we all have to beware, that we are potentially at risk, they see empty streets. The thoughts that go through their heads are a sign of worry – What is a virus ? Can I get sick? Will I die ?; What if my parents get coronavirus?; Will my grandparents, my neighbor, be OK?; If someone coughs, will I get infected too?
Also, there are some children whose parents and relatives are in hospitals and / or in self-isolation. For children, self-isolation is a very very abstract concept. Adults do not know what to think and do so we need to be aware that kids are certainly five steps behind us.
The best we can give to our children at this point is the conversation
The best we can give to our children at this time is conversation – in the manner and to the rhythm that suits them. We will not share the same information with a preschool and high school child. A child who is upset and anxious will seek more support and protection as opposed to a child who does not care and is occupied with play. However, it is important for us to be there if they would need us. Before explaining anything to a child, let’s examine what he or she knows, what his or her beliefs are.
What to say to a child if one of their loved ones is in self-isolation?
You can try to explain to a preschool child the new situation as follows – just like other diseases (colds, flu), coronavirus is noticeable when we have a fever, cough, feel tired and exhausted. We can also say that viruses are transient so it is possible if someone has a fever and we talk to him or her to get the fever (we can remind the child of some of his or her cold that has previously suffered from). It is important to explain to the child why we are protecting ourselves now more than usual. We can tell that this virus is one of those who quickly moves on to another person and that is why he could hear on the street, seen on the Internet that many adults say they should keep distance.
Regarding self-isolation, we can tell a child in simple language that some people have traveled or socialized with people who have this coronavirus and therefore need to be monitored for 14 days to see if the virus has passed to their body.
It would be advisable for the child to explain the purpose of self-isolation in a way that Dad / Mom / Grandma / Grandpa / monitoring with the doctor if they become infected. We can explain to a child that we can recognize the disease by measuring the temperature, monitoring how our body feels, if we notice anything then call our doctor. If the doctor suspects coronavirus then he will send us for further medical examinations. Also, we must explain to the child that if mom / dad does not have fever or cough during this time, then he / she is healthy and can continue to socialize with others.
How to explain to a child that a family member has a virus?
The child will be sure to ask what happens if someone has the virus. Especially they will have numerous questions if a person from their environment has the virus. For example, if someone from a family or known environment has a child with a virus, let’s try to explain the child with specific examples, for example: “Dad complained he had a fever, he was coughed, we called a doctor. He said that Dad had to come to the hospital to check if Dad had a virus. Doctors at the hospital have confirmed that he has a virus, which is why he has to be in the hospital for a while. Doctors will help Dad heal. I know you miss your dad, but hospital doctors who know a lot about this virus will make sure your dad gets better as soon as possible. I also know you would want to visit him, but the doctors don’t allow it. We can call Dad, ask him how he feels. Dad has a cellphone and we can send him pictures, videos, we can write him a message. After Dad heals, he will come home and then we will continue to hang out as usual. ”
It is important for a preschooler to provide information that are concrete and clear. It is necessary to give the child an idea of what will happen next. We may have to repeat them. Also giving information in a timely manner prevents the likelihood that terrible ideas are developing in his small head. Doing in this way – we reduce the likelihood of trusting disinfectants. The same principles apply to a school-age child, but we can still share more information, research the virus together, agree rules that everyone in the household will follow. It is important to emphasize to the child that the virus is not dangerous if we recognize it on time, if we contact the doctor and listen to his or her instructions.
The conversation with the child should be tailored to the language they surely understand. Also, the child may ask us some questions that we do not know to answer. In these situations we need to be honest and tell him that we will try to find out from the person who has this information. Of course, we can also research and check together on sites that offer relevant information (eg Ministry of Health – Coronavirus Page, Public Health Institute, etc.)
It is important to guide the child and show the way we are careful, what to do, but also to make sense of the rest of the day, an activity plan. Of course, taking care of being safe and protected. The structure gives the child a sense of security.
Written by: Ana Raguž, Psychologist, M.A.