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What Every Parent Really Needs to Know About the Coronavirus

As a fellow parent, I understand that you cannot help but be concerned about all of the distressing reports about the spread of the coronavirus. It is ok to be fearful, but most fear comes from misunderstanding and misinformation.

Here is what every mom or dad really needs to know about the coronavirus.

Though you might think so, “coronavirus” in and of itself is not something new. ​​Human Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that usually cause illnesses like the common cold. Almost everyone gets one of these viruses at some point in their lives. Most of the time the illness only lasts for a short time.

What is new, is this is a new “strain” of coronavirus – COVID-19 – that has not been seen in the human population before. That is what makes this concerning. Since this is a new or “novel” coronavirus that no one has been exposed to before, no one has any immunities to it.  Health officials are also concerned because as with every new virus, it is hard to predict how it will continue to affect people. Researchers and doctors are learning more about it every day, including exactly how it spreads and who is most at risk.

What Are the Symptoms of COVID-19?

Symptoms of COVID-19 can range from mild to severe and can include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

Who Is Most at Risk?

According to the CDC, children do not seem to be at higher risk of getting COVID-19. However, some people are, including

  • Older adults
  • People who have serious chronic medical conditions like:
    • Heart disease
    • Diabetes
    • Lung disease

How Can I Best Protect My Family?

There is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19, but there are a few things you can do to keep your family healthy:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer. Look for one that is 60% or higher alcohol-based.
  • Keep your kids away from others who are sick or keep them home if they are ill.
  • Teach kids to cough and sneeze into a tissue (make sure to throw it away after each use!) or to cough and sneeze into their arm or elbow, not their hands.
  • Clean and disinfect your home, as usual, using regular household cleaning sprays or wipes.
  • Avoid touching your face; teach your children to do the same.
  • Avoid travel to highly infected areas.

A note about facemasks: The CDC only recommends facemasks for people who have symptoms of COVID-19, not for people who are healthy. Healthcare workers and anyone taking care of someone with COVID-19 should wear facemasks.

How to Talk to Your Kids About Coronavirus

Whether they have told you so or not, your children are probably getting a lot of second hand information, and are confused and naturally scared about the virus. It is crucial that you, as a parent, do everything you can to explain the truth about the virus and allay their fears.

If you haven’t already, don’t be surprised to be bombarded with questions like:

“Will I get sick?”

“Will my school close?”

“Will grandma or granddad die?”

Coronavirus is dominating the news and children, as always, are asking direct, difficult questions about what’s going on. While the risk of young people being seriously affected by the virus appears low, doom-laden social media posts and playground rumors can and do, induce panic.

Stories of deaths, possible food shortages, and school closures, and the circulation of phrases like “pandemic potential” can add to a young child’s sense of alarm.

Your tone is vital when discussing coronavirus with a child, advises Angharad Rudkin, clinical psychologist, and consultant on the parenting book What’s My Child Thinking?

“We all enjoy scare stories to a degree, but we don’t like to hear them quite so much when they’re a bit closer to home,” she says. “Help your child put some distance between them and the threat by giving information about how coronavirus is spread and what we can do to help minimize the risk such as using loads of lovely bubbles when washing our hands.”

It’s essential to talk to a child about things he or she can control, such as disposing of tissues and personal hygiene, Dr. Rudkin says, rather than those they cannot.

Once the explanation is over, the conversation should move on to something that “isn’t threatening, such as what they had for lunch or who do they think is going to win the football match this evening”, she adds.

Older people and those with existing health conditions are thought to be most at risk of death or serious sickness from catching coronavirus. This could lead children to worry about older friends and relatives.

Dr. Rudkin advises honesty over the argument “we will all die eventually but chances are not until we are really, really old”. She adds, “Reassure your child that you and granddad are really fit and strong and that you will continue to do all you can to keep yourself/granddad healthy and safe.”

Children, like the rest of the population, are exposed to myths and misinformation about coronavirus, via playground gossip and, particularly among pre-teens and teenagers, on social media.

The best way to combat this is by providing “age-appropriate information and reassurance”, says Dr. Rudkin, as the source young people trust best is a parent.


About Cynthia Lechan-Goodman

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