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One year on, it’s a crisis on everybody’s doorstep. It’s neither possible to protect them from news and adult discussion about Covid-19 and nor should we try to.
However, when they hear our concerns they won’t necessarily be processing them in the same way we do. They’ll often pick up on some aspect and focus on that. Around this they’ll build their own interpretation based on their limited life experience and understanding.
This was brought home to me by our Australian grandchildren who are moving on from the dense smoke and real fears arising from sharing a back boundary with a tinder-dry regional park to those of the fast-growing virus threat in NSW.
In discussing matter such as these, it’s best to take our cues from them and not to offer more information than they need. Young children need to know that they’re safe and what they need to do to keep themselves so. Greater vigilance will be required around their personal hygiene.
With older children, the best approach is to let them talk about it, answer questions, and discuss with them the accuracy of the information and the context to help them get things into perspective. They need to know about helping keep themselves, the family and others around them safe. They’ll undoubtedly be hearing similar messages in school, if schools are still open when you read this.
Some will show avid interest, be fully aware of its enormity and be thinking through ‘‘What now? What next?’’. Others will appear not to acknowledge.
The messages we give need to be factual and have a positive focus around family management of the pandemic.
While it’s unwise to make promises that aren’t in our power to keep, we should aim to reassure them that most people who catch the ’flu will recover, just as when they had that last bad cold.
Let them know about the work being done to protect people and that their doctor and the hospitals will take care of people who get really sick. This could be important to emphasise if they develop a concern about the wellbeing of grandparents, for example.
Reinforce personal hygiene messages about hand-washing, coughing, not touching the face (not an easy feat) and why you might be stocking up on non-perishables in case you all need to stay at home for a while.
It also provides a great opportunity for them to learn about our immune system and how it works to fight diseases and other infections.