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How to talk to the kids about the Coronavirus

YCIS Beijing's School Counsellor Rachel George shares tips on how to talk to the kids about the deadly disease

If the start of the new lunar year has left you feeling more anxious than celebratory, then you're not alone. The Novel Coronavirus – the latest deadly strain of Coronavirus to sweep the nation and what the Wall Street Journal calls the 'Made-in-China Contagion' – has not only interrupted long-awaited family reunions and brought the country's most celebrated holiday to a standstill but has also infiltrated nations around the world, raising alarms wherever it goes.

And if you've been feeling anxious about the whole thing, then your children might be feeling it too. So we invited YCIS School Counsellor Rachel George to share some tips on how to communicate the truth without scaring them.

This interview was lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
First, take care of yourself.

First, take care of yourself.

Photo: @anthonytran/Unsplash.com

Our children look to the key adults in their lives for guidance on how to manage their emotions during times of stress. In order to do this effectively, it is important to be aware of your own emotions and how they may be affecting your behaviour. 

Take time for yourself. Try to deal with your own reactions to the situation as fully as possible. You will be better able to help your children if you are coping well. If you are anxious or upset, your children are more likely to feel the same way. 

Talk to other adults such as family and friends. It is important not to dwell on your fears or anxiety by yourself. Sharing feelings with others often makes people feel more connected and secure. 

Take care of your physical health. Once you are in tune with yourself, you will then be better equipped to not only be aware of your child’s emotions but also better equipped to respond with empathy.

Speak openly and honestly about the world around them.

Speak openly and honestly about the world around them.

Photo: @cottonbro/Pexels.com 
Teach them the facts about coronavirus and the proper safety steps you will take as a family to keep you all safe. Keep in mind the developmental age of your child and make sure to keep things in perspective. 

Reassure them they can ask you questions and together you will find an answer. Your child may have information-gathering questions, such as: How do people catch the virus? or reassurance-asking questions, such as: Are we going to be okay?  These types of questions when asked once or twice, are quite normal. However, asking the same type of question repeatedly may mean that your child has some anxiety over their concern, and they may still have questions. In this case, have a longer chat to address any fears or concerns they may still have.

Check out kid-friendly resources such as BrainPop and Peekaboo Kidz. They have excellent video cartoons explaining viruses. Watch them together to help spark a conversation. Your older students may want to watch the news to stay informed; however, media overload is never a good thing. 

Use this time to bond as a family. Now is a good time to take a 'technology timeout.' Put the phones and computers down and stay away from social media. 

Name that Emotion.

Name that Emotion.

Photo: @tengyart/Unsplash.com

Acknowledge and normalize their feelings. Children sometimes are not the best at identifying their feelings- this is where you can assist them in naming their emotions. Allow your children to discuss their feelings and concerns, assisting them in naming them. Are you feeling frustrated, lonely or nervous? Listen. Empathize, and let their questions be your guide. ​

Reaffirm them that their feelings and reactions are normal and expected. Discuss reasons for different feelings that may occur throughout the day and night. Picture books are great for helping children learn to identify a range of emotions, for discussing situations that might spark these various emotions and for helping children to identify strategies for managing overwhelming emotions. Check out Wilma Jean, the Worry Machine! by Julia Cook and The Worry Box by Suzanne Chiew.

Calm Corner.

Calm Corner.

You can help your child build resilience by teaching them coping strategies they can remember and use on their own. Find your favourite quiet place in the house and try some of these self-regulation tools which the children can use at any time:

1. Read your favourite book/s;
2. Draw pictures;
3. Practice five-finger breathing (trace your hand and breath in tracing towards the finger and out as you trace your thumb, pointer, middle, index and pinky finger)
4. Wrap themselves in their favourite blanket;
5. Ask for a hug;
6. Count to 100 slowly;
7. Whisper the alphabet.

Continue with Normal Routines.

Continue with Normal Routines.

Routines assist with establishing security and helps children develop self-discipline. At a time where there are more than a few unknowns, make your home a place where a predictable routine allows them to feel safe. Having set times to eat breakfast, snack and lunch along with a few educational bits will keep your children school-ready. 

Perhaps conduct a virtual playdate. Allow them to video chat with their buddies to continue their social time. 

Rachel George is the Head of Student Support and School Counsellor at Yew Chung International School of Beijing. She is a firm believer in taking a holistic view towards education, which includes a focus on students’ social and emotional wellness and enabling students to advocate for themselves. Find more of her tips for student support on the YCIS Wechat account here.

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