Children and young people will be hugely affected by what is going on around them at this difficult time. Their lives are changing and they will have picked up worries and fears about the virus and the possibility that they or someone they love and depend on may get ill. They may be particularly worried that grandparents, older relatives and family members with health conditions or disabilities might die. They will also pick up on other worries parents and carers may have about the situation. For children who have already been bereaved, anxiety may be worse.
If you are isolating as a family this can mean that activities which help children and young people switch off, relax and cope with stress are not available. It is normal for tempers to fray when families are thrown together for long periods, sometimes in close quarters. As schools close this will put even more in this situation.
How you can help
Talk honestly with your children about both facts and emotions. Ask what they know – they may be getting information which is incorrect or distorted from friends or social media. Don't overload children and consider their age and understanding. With a younger child you may need to give information in small chunks. Talking about the situation and about the possibility of death and dying is an ongoing conversation.
Ask what they know, and be reassuring. Explain that the illness is often mild and most people recover. But be honest about the fact that, very sadly some people will die. It’s OK to let them know if you don’t know the answers to some of their questions.
Don’t make promises (‘Grandma will be fine’) but reassure them that they are loved and supported. Let them know about any plans for what might happen if one of the family gets ill. Focus on what you’re doing to stay safe. An important way to reassure children and young people is to emphasise the safety precautions that you are taking. Children feel empowered when they know what to do to keep safe so explain about the importance of washing their hands.
It can help to keep to a routine, especially when everything has been disrupted. Structured days with regular mealtimes, school work, breaks, playtime and bedtime can help younger children happy and healthy. Help them get some exercise even if they can’t leave the house. Help them keep in contact with friends and relatives over the phone or internet.
At the same time don’t be hard on yourself or set unrealistic goals about what you can do under exceptional circumstances. Try to make sure you all get some time apart, and time to relax. Where possible, let children and young people make some choices about what they are doing, as this may help give them some sense of control over their lives.
If someone dies, we have more information about how children may react and how you can help them. Read more.
How Cruse can help