Make sure you understand the risks

Before talking to kids about what they may be seeing on the news or hearing from their peers, parents should make sure they have an understanding of the virus first.

You’ll want to be able to answer your kids’ questions honestly, which is why the CDCTrusted Source can be a great resource.

Dr. Teena Chopra, medical director of infection prevention and hospital epidemiology at DMC Harper University Hospital, said that “Parents should inform their kids that what is known about the virus at this point is that it is a respiratory virus like other common respiratory viruses that cause pneumonia.”

She said the illness can be asymptomatic (no symptoms), or have symptoms ranging from mild to severe.

“Parents can use the example of comparing it to other viruses such as influenza, and talk about how hand hygiene is the most important thing to prevent the virus,” she said.

Chopra added that parents should be teaching their kids to wash their hands for 20 seconds after bathroom use, before eating, and after going to public places.

Also, they should avoid touching their mouths, eyes, and nose.

Right now, Chopra explained that there are still ongoing investigations regarding how transmittable the virus is and what impacts its severity.

She said that while it’s hard to know the risk levels at this point, the fatality rate is around 2 percent. Current global confirmed cases are a little over 40,000 with 910 deaths.

By contrast, she said the SARS fatality rate was 10 percent and the MERS-CoV fatality rate was around 33 percent.

Having the talk

Neidich said that parents should listen to their children’s fears and not dismiss them. She explained that this can be accomplished by practicing active listening.

In other words, give your children your full attention and acknowledge their feelings out loud.

“Help them understand the facts rather than rumors about the virus when developmentally appropriate,” Neidich said.

Of course, that requires managing our own fears surrounding the illness. That’s why McBain says it’s important to “educate yourself on what’s going on and how you can best protect yourself.”

Parents should also check in with themselves and consider how their fears may be impacting their children.

“When a parent is anxious, their child is going to feel that anxiety and take it on, regardless of how well they think they mask or hide their anxiety,” Neidich said.

For this reason, if the current news cycle is contributing to your anxiety, she suggests talking to a counselor and relying on your support system of parenting peers who may be experiencing similar feelings.

If your child is starting to experience panic attacks or phobias surrounding coronavirus or anything else? McBain said: “A therapist might be the next step to helping you and/or your child work through these fears in a healthy way.”

The important thing is to continue having open communication as a family.

If your child is experiencing worries or concerns, you don’t want them keeping those in. Talk about those fears, rely upon the data we currently have to assuage those fears when possible, and don’t be afraid to turn off the news if necessary.

It’s sometimes okay to step away from the current news cycle for the benefit of your and your child’s mental health.