Coverage of coronavirus / COVID-19 on news media and social media has been relentless, and many children and their families are feeling anxious, confused or upset. But there are positive steps families can take to manage their media use during stressful times.
Reassure children that they have caring adults around them who are taking smart steps to help keep them safe. (For advice on staying safe, see the World Health Organization and the Australian Government Department of Health.) Wherever possible, keep a regular routine of meals, activities, chores and physical exercise.
Here’s a great, quick exercise that adults can do with children to ground ourselves and feel calmer; it’s called ‘54321’:
Meditation can help families to reduce stress and encourage kindness and calm. Common Sense Media has a list of fun, kid-friendly meditation apps for children.
While parents want to stay alert to important developments, it’s not helpful to watch the same stressful items over and over.
Many people find it useful to have a routine of checking the headlines of a trusted news source a couple of times a day, while staying away from 24/7 rolling news and social media ‘churn’.
Calmly ask children what they’ve seen in the media. They may have seen ‘news’ items that were untrue, or they may believe the problem is more dangerous or prevalent than it actually is.
Be clear with children about what really happened, keeping your language age-appropriate. For example, ‘The government wants to keep everyone safe, so now when people visit Australia, they have to stay inside for two weeks to make sure they are healthy.’
Ask children how the media items made them feel. Remind them that it’s OK to feel worried or scared, but that they should talk to a trusted adult about it and remember that upset feelings don’t last; they will always feel better again. Pick out some fun, relaxing activities you can do together.
Show them how you’re dealing with your own feelings. For example, ‘I was disappointed to hear on the news that we can’t go to the football this week, but I know this rule is to help us stay healthy. I’m going to enjoy watching the footy on TV with you.’
If children are interested in an issue, steer them towards trustworthy sources. For coverage of COVID-19 created for kids, check out Behind the News – it is clear and interesting, and emphasises optimism and the positive steps people are taking to make things better.
You might remind teens and older children that:
Conversation-starters might include:
Families can find fun things to do together if they are stuck indoors or unable to go to sporting matches or concerts.
Common Sense Media provides some great lists to get you started, including: