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Opinion: How to ease a child's fears about COVID-19

“What’s the coronavirus?” my five-year-old asked me curiously after overhearing part of my conversation with a friend about the current state of the world.
Coronavirus Bonnie Henry
Dr.Bonnie Henry speaking at a press conference March 9.

“What’s the coronavirus?” my five-year-old asked me curiously after overhearing part of my conversation with a friend about the current state of the world.

She didn’t seem concerned, more just curious about the introduction of a new word to her ever-growing vocabulary, and as she looked back down at her Lego structure that she was building, I realized that it was time to be honest with her.

Because while I’ve spent the last couple of weeks hovered over my computer, watching live Q&A broadcasts with the World Health Organization (WHO), reading updates on the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) website, and following the latest travel advisories posted on Health Canada, my kids have been mostly in the dark about the quickly-spreading disease.

Last week we cancelled what was going to be our first-ever family trip abroad, a two-week trek through the south of France for spring break, and since then, our plans have been ever-changing. Maybe we’ll just go to Palm Springs or Phoenix instead? Nope, increased cases in the US. Maybe we’ll visit another province in Canada? Nope, air travel is not recommended. A ferry to Victoria? Social distancing doesn’t recommend time spent in such close quarters with so many people.

As I write this, the coronavirus has spread to 146 countries, with over 153,000 confirmed cases around the world - 73 of which are right here in BC. Things are changing by the hour, and while we’re all, for the most part, trying to remain calm, most of our kids are concerned, curious, or confused as they watch us as we watch things evolve.

It’s time to be open and honest with our kids about the coronavirus and all that’s happening around the world. They need to know why they can’t go to Science World, or hang out at the mall, and they need to know the severity of the situation.

Start by asking them questions to find out what they know - or think they know already. Then, let’s not just tell them to wash their hands, but explain why it’s more important than ever right now. Let’s explain to them that it’s not just about us getting sick, but about the people around us who are already sick or immunocompromised too. Let’s make sure they know that it’s not ok to make jokes about COVID-19 as the global death toll continues to rise.

Let’s tell our kids where to find the facts, and not to listen to the fiction that is filling their ears from friends and on social media platforms. Let’s explain the border closures and self-quarantines and stockpiling that’s happening, and let’s also show them videos of how people are coming together, supporting small businesses, providing for their sick neighbours who need help, and using this pandemic to come together as a community.

And then let’s comfort them, let them know that we’re here to answer their questions, and that we’ll do our best to keep them healthy and safe. And let’s follow through with that promise, because friends, this is only the beginning.

Bianca Bujan is a mom of three, Editor of WestCoast Families magazine, and a freelance writer who shares about travel, family, and food in various major print and online publications. Find her on Twitter @biancabujan and Instagram @bitsofbee.