Talking about scary stuff in the news

This article is adapted from a piece previously published on Beyond Blue’s Healthy Families website.

Children need support to understand COVID-19 and how it is being covered in the news

For many people, the coverage of COVID-19, like the pandemic itself, is unprecedented. While this helps us stay informed about what’s going on, it can be distressing – especially for children. Fortunately, there are ways to support children to understand what’s happening. 

Five tips for parents and guardians

1. Be aware of what kids are watching

On average, adults in Australia spend nearly 100 hours watching TV or browsing online, and it’s safe to assume most people are more tuned in to the news than normal at the moment. Think about how often children are in the room or watching over your shoulder and be proactive about switching off when they’re around.

2. Help them understand

Encourage your child to ask questions about what they’re seeing and explain that sometimes scary things happen in the world and it can be hard to understand why – and it’s really normal to feel scared and worried. 

3. Provide plenty of reassurance

While your day-to-day schedule will no doubt be disrupted, it’s important to develop regular routine to help children feel comfortable and secure. This could be something as simple as having set meal times or reading each night before bed.

4. Focus on the helpers

Help your child see the positives – that there are lots of people working at hospitals, supermarkets and petrol stations to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. You can also point out any acts of kindness, such as discounted meals and free coffee for healthcare workers, as examples of decency in people. 

5. Take care of yourself

Everyone is feeling the effect of the coronavirus, even if you haven’t contracted the illness or know someone who has. It's important to take care of yourself so you can continue to support your family.

  • Limit how much news you watch if you’re becoming pre-occupied or feeling overwhelmed. 
  • Talk to others about how COVID-19 has affected you. 
  • Take care of yourself by exercising, getting enough sleep and communicating with friends and family.
  • Seek professional support if you need it. 

Changes in behaviour – what to look for

When children are confronted with something stressful, like the constant discussion and coverage of COVID-19, they’re not always able to express their feelings in the same way adults can. Instead, they show how they’re feeling through their behaviour.

Common reactions include:

  • becoming clingier
  • having more tantrums or outbursts
  • acting younger than their age
  • not sleeping as well  
  • being more irritable
  • talking more about death and dying

If your child is acting differently and you’re worried about their reaction to distressing news, seek support from a health professional or contact  The  Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service.

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