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How To Talk To Children About Coronavirus

While Australians have been told there is no need for panic around COVID-19, the complexity of the disease and its community impacts can be difficult to comprehend for adults let alone for young children.

As our leaders warn of a "new normal" with the number of cases rising daily and restrictions around community protection increasing, child development experts say it's likely that children will have questions about the virus.

Director of Emerging Minds Brad Morgan said it's important to begin any conversation with children about the coronavirus with discussing what they are directly experiencing or witnessing themselves.

Morgan told 10 daily the conversation can be as simple as asking children what they had heard or seen or asking them if they had any questions.

He said importantly, the next step was to correct anything they had heard that was incorrect, before focusing on 'actions' that both the community and the family were taking to help prevent the virus from spreading.

"Be honest, but also respond in hopeful and positive ways," Morgan said.

"If they have been exposed to stuff in the media, really talk about what they’ve noticed and what they’ve seen and ask them questions."

"Generally what we would really encourage is to talk about the practical things being done to manage some of these things."

Founder of Parenting Ideas Michael Grose said deciding exactly how much to tell young children can be a "fine line to walk".

"Often sitting down and talking to them, saying ‘what do you know about covid-19?’ you might not get very far, but if you can plug into the news issues, plug into what might be happening at school or some of the events, they’re more likely to open up," Grose told The Project.

"Then you can have those conversations that you really need to have."

Dr Charlotte Keating, a psychologist specialising in children and teens, said it was important to be truthful and honest with children but also reassuring.

She said it was important parents of high school children, and year 12 students in particular, were still being supported during what would likely be a period of disrupted learning.

"I think many schools are considering what the next steps are, relative to what we've seen happen in other places around the world," Keating told The Project.

"It's possible that kids will be spending a lot more time at home, possibly having some of their education delivered online."

Image: Getty

Keating said it was important for parents and caregivers to stay ahead of what those potential changes might be and how to support the transition from school-based to online learning.

Morgan told 10 daily it was also important to tell children about how the risk of coronavirus was being managed inside the family home more generally.

Morgan said this could also be used when discussing children's fears around the virus, particularly if they had heard about the greater risks for vulnerable members of the community.

"So for example saying, if someone in our family becomes unwell,  we might all need to be home together," he explained.

"It might mean we can't go to school or work, but we might find some other things we can do together. We also have enough stuff in the pantry or we've organised for someone else to get it for us."

'Every Cloud Has A Silver Lining'

Psychologist Lea Waters told The Project it was also important families look at the 'silver lining.

"I think one of the things that we can keep in mind as we’re all getting through this pandemic together is that every dark cloud has a silver lining and the silver lining right now is more quality family time," Waters said.

"Let’s have movie nights, meals together, all the things we say we’re going to do but never have time to do as a family."

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Keating suggested it was also important to think about how routines and rituals at home might change if the whole family is at home together for an extended time.

"Have a think about how you might meet the needs of work, school, play, online, offline, kind of opportunities, but really I think spending a lot of time at home is just such an opportunity to slow things down," Keating told The Project.

"Connecting, being kind, working out self-care rituals together, writing a list of all the different things you can think to distract yourself and enjoy and have fun with at home."

"Whether it be learning a new hobby, cooking together, baking, really trying to get creative and you know, enjoying the whole family getting involved in it."

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Given the noise around coronavirus it can be hard to distinguish what advice to take, especially if you're experiencing symptoms, are returning from abroad or have had contact with someone who has the disease.

Morgan said it can also be a good reminder to parents to also self-monitor their own screen-time intake at home.

"Parents and educators can also monitor our own consumption of media and sort of start quarantining our own time looking at these [coronavirus-related] stories."

"We are all conscious as parents there's obviously a lot of anxiety and some of it is because of the uncertainty," he added.