Last month UNICEF provided information on how to talk to children about the coronavirus (COVID-19).
Children hear news on TV and may see posts online. These can leave them feeling anxious, worried and even fearful.
All the changes they are experiencing as a result of our social isolation can be really unsettling. It is important that we have open and supportive discussions with children about what is going on so that fear of the unknown, and unfounded fears, do not exacerbate their anxiety and stress.
It's also important to monitor children during these discussions so that we do not increase their anxiety levels or leave them in a more distressed state after the conversation than they were before we started.
Firstly it is important to find out what your children know (or think they know).
The invitation to talk needs to be calm and supportive, where children feel safe. It might be useful to find different ways to initiate the conversation rather than simply sitting down for a face-to-face discussion.
For example, with younger children you might ask them to draw what it feels like being home all the time. Talking about the drawing can offer you opportunities to gently probe and find out what they know about why they are home.
Older children might be challenged to find several different resources on the internet that describe social distancing, which can also lead to opportunities to explore what they know about why this is so important at this time.
Never minimise children's concerns, acknowledge these and reassure them that it is natural to feel this way.
Accurate information helps us all cope with the situation we are currently experiencing.
It is important to think about your child's capacity to understand and target the information you share to this capacity. For example, a younger child is not likely to benefit from a discussion of what the virus actually looks like, whereas an older child might be challenged to find out about the different coronaviruses and how this particular form compares to the others.
Never guess answers yourself - use the opportunity to search the internet together for answers. Usually you will find a range of different answers, some rather contradictory.
This is a wonderful opportunity to teach your children the critical skills they will need all their lives - the skills needed to assess the information provided, check the credentials of who is providing the information, and check the validity of the arguments used to support the information.
The UNICEF website provides a range of information that might be a useful starting point
Older children might enjoy watching the various handwashing demonstrations on the internet and determining which is the most useful - perhaps they could identify the pluses and minuses of several and explain why the one they have chosen is the best. They might be able to communicate with their friends via facetime or zoom or other alternatives and develop a joint presentation to share with their families.
You might also try similar activities in relation to safe coughing and sneezing and appropriate social distancing. Always reassure children that with appropriate safety precautions they are most likely to be safe.
Discrimination against others is on the increase as a result of the virus and it is important that we are alert to the ways our children are interpreting what they are seeing, and the extent to which they internalise this discrimination and articulate it.
Given our social isolation we are not likely yet to see if this translates into bullying of peers, but we can certainly hear in children's language if they are picking up on the various discriminatory comments circulating.
We need to address these comments and perceptions immediately, using them as an opportunity to explore issues of fairness. Encourage children to think about how it might feel to be in the other person's shoes, to find out more about the other person's culture, life and experiences.
To keep our children safe we need to be safe ourselves - physically and mentally healthy.
Make sure you have time to relax. Reach out to friends and family - even virtual daily conversations can make a huge difference.
Others can interact with your children online and give you a precious few minutes to catch your breath.
Grandparents can read a bedtime story via facetime or zoom. Children can share the projects they have worked on across the day with friends and family online. It is even possible to join several friends together to make a virtual choir and all sing together, or if your children play musical instruments, jam together.