News, developments, and opinions surrounding the coronavirus (Covid-19) are everywhere: from the TV to the playground, there really is no escaping potentially one of the largest pandemics of our lifetimes. As each day rolls around, it seems that fear and anxiety is growing as questions about the coronavirus are left unanswered. We would be foolish to assume that our children are completely oblivious to the health issues that the entire population is facing and irresponsible to disregard talking to children about the coronavirus. But what exactly do we say?
For children with special educational needs, the idea of change and uncertainty can lead to heightened tension and increased behaviors, however, current reports suggest that the ‘normal’ life we know and love may be a moderately distant dream. This leaves many of us with questions on how to address this issue with children, especially those who are living with Special Needs. The following advice is provided to support those conversations to ensure that no further anxiety and confusion is created.
It is almost inevitable that children have already heard about the coronavirus and that they have some understanding of the pandemic. Many may have seen people wearing masks, have heard family members discussing the pandemic or may have even seen the news. For these reasons, we shouldn’t avoid talking about the issue altogether, as this may make children worry more. Instead, take this as an opportunity to discuss the facts of the coronavirus rather than fueling opinions and speculation.
Janine Domingues, PhD, a child psychologist at the Child Mind Institute explains this perspective by stating “you take on the news and you’re the person who filters the news to your kid,”. In other words, it is imperative that we only feed factual, relevant and appropriate information to children.
It is important that we are developmentally appropriate during conversations with children surrounding the coronavirus. Offering too much information at one time may be overwhelming and anxiety-inducing. Instead, a more effective and appropriate technique would be to answer a child’s questions, rather than attempting to teach them about the coronavirus. By attempting to answer questions in a clear and simple manner, we are offering children much needed support to children.
Before you begin to offer information and answers, aim to discover the child’s current understanding surrounding the coronavirus, as well as how they feel about it. By giving them the opportunity to do this, we are able to debunk any misinformation they may have consumed before proving them with factual information. By answering, but not prompting, questions, we are able to maintain anxiety without creating it.
With constant exposure to the coronavirus, children are likely to worry about their own health, as well as that of family members and loved ones. Reassuring children about how to stay safe is a helpful way to reassure children that they are less likely to be affected. It may also be assuring to remind children that younger individuals seem to experience milder symptoms.
Jamie Howard, a child psychologist notes, “kids feel empowered when they know what to do to keep themselves safe.” By teaching children the importance of following the current guidelines and how to effectively wash their hands, we are giving them the power and confidence that they crave. It is important to focus on what you should do to stay safe, and for children, one of the most important techniques to master is washing their hands. For many children, this can be a fun and exciting activity that can include songs to time the length of the activity.
Of course, this may be the most difficult point to achieve due to widespread closures and lockdowns but it is imperative to attempt to maintain a normal routine as much as possible. Structured days are key to ensuring that life remains as predictable as possible; a vital element of life for those with Special Educational Needs.
Inform children that you will continue to update them as more information is released. Maintaining those lines of communication will allow children to continue to feel supported whilst they understand that somebody is there to answer their questions. It is important to remember, however, that nobody is an expert on the coronavirus and that we may not be able to answer all of the questions that we are faced with. It is important to reassure our children with facts, rather than opinions, so clearly inform the child that you don’t have those answers at the moment but you will tell them again once you know more.
By Jodie Pedwell
Jodie qualified as a Primary in the UK but quickly found her passion lay within the field of Special Education. Whilst teaching within an ASD specialist class, Jodie discovered her expertise lay in supporting individuals who displayed challenging behaviors and has since held various positions where she could fulfill this dream. In her free time, Jodie loves to explore the outdoors and practice yoga and meditation.
The child who is ‘left behind’ most is the one who leaves school without transition readiness.
Dr. James Stanfield, Ed.D.