Children ask a lot of questions under the best of circumstances. In these times of the novel Coronavirus pandemic when they have been restricted to their homes, the uncomfortable questions tend to increase and not surprisingly most of them are centered around COVID-19.
Parents in the emirate have revealed the kind of questions they are being bombarded with and are at a loss to answer. While some of them are funny (What is Coronavirus’ colour?), others pertain to the situation (Why are people not allowed to go out at night; can we travel to get away from Coronavirus; when will Coronavirus end) and require parents to be well-informed to satisfy their children’s curiosity.
To enable parents to impart the right information to their curious children, the Sharjah Child Friendly Office (SCFO) is running a ‘Parenting and COVID-19’ campaign on its social media platforms.
The campaign is based on resources provided by a consortium of international organisations, including World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and offers parenting tips and engaging activities to support them while they help their children deal with the issues arising from the crisis.
For parents who are at a loss as to how to answer their kids’ questions, the campaign offers some excellent tips.
Find out what your child already knows
Parents should initiate the conversation with questions geared to the child's age level. While you might ask older children, "What are you hearing about Coronavirus? What questions do you have?", younger children may respond better if you ask them if they have any questions about the new sickness that is going around.
“This will give you the chance to learn how much your kids know and to find out if they are hearing the wrong information,” says Dr Hessa Al Ghazal, Executive Director of SCFO. “Follow your child's lead in the exercise. Some children may be interested in knowing everything and have a lot of questions. But if your kids do not seem interested or don't ask a lot of questions, that's okay too.”
Be honest and offer comfort
The SCFO campaign resources advise focusing on helping children feel safe. “Be truthful, but don't offer more detail than your child is interested in,” says Al Ghazal.
If you do not know the answer to your child’s question, say so. “Parents should use the question as a chance to find out the facts together. Check the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s website or official media channels for up-to-date, reliable information about Coronavirus (COVID-19). For information about the UAE, rely on official government sources, such as the Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHP).”
Parents are advised to speak calmly and reassuringly. “Children can easily pick up on the mood of the parent if they are worried,” says the SCFO executive director.
It is natural for children to worry if it could happen to them. Give them space to share their fears. Let your child know that kids don't seem to get as sick as adults. Let them know they can always come to you for answers or to talk about what scares them.
Be aware of how your children get news and information, especially older kids who go online. Guide them to age-appropriate content so they do not end up finding news shows or websites that scare them or carry incorrect information.
Help kids feel in control
Al Ghazal says children should be taught to do specific things that will make them feel in control. “Teach them that getting lots of sleep and washing their hands well and often can help them stay strong and well. Explain that regular hand washing also helps stop viruses from spreading to others. Be a good role model and let your kids see you washing your hands often.”
Parents should tell them about all the things that are being done to keep people safe and healthy. Young children might be reassured to know that hospitals and doctors are prepared to treat people who get sick. Older kids might be comforted to know that scientists are working to develop a vaccine. These talks also help kids better manage changes to their normal routine.
Children may also worry more about family and friends than themselves. “If kids hear that older people are more likely to be seriously ill, they might worry about their grandparents. Letting them call or video chat with older relatives can help them feel reassured about loved ones,” says Al Ghazal.
It is important to let your kids know that it is normal to feel stressed out at times. “If they are taught by their parents to recognise these feelings and that stressful times pass and life gets back to normal, it can help them build resilience,” says Al Ghazal.
Keeping the conversation going
The SCFO campaign suggests using this opportunity as a way to help kids learn about their bodies and how the immune system fights disease. “It will further reassure them that there are ways they can contribute to fighting the disease,” says Al Ghazal
She suggests keeping the conversation going by talking about current events with kids on a regular basis. “It is important to help them analyse and assess the stories they hear about. Proper communication is the key to a great relationship, so let this be the beginning,” she concludes.