Explaining isolation to children

The current coronavirus pandemic is breeding a lot of societal anxiety (rightfully so) and many countries are imposing strict isolation rules on the vulnerable and also the wider public.

Toddlers

Toddlers are unlikely to need to understand isolation, however it is important to start teaching them hygiene habits, such as good hand washing. This is likely to be an important habit to have as a skill as they grow up in the post-pandemic world.

Young Children

For children under the age of seven, they are unlikely to understand the implications of the pandemic, so therefore will require entertaining and occupation, rather than an in-depth explanation of isolation. As with toddlers, take the time to teach them the hygiene habits that are important in reducing the spread of viruses.

That said, children of this age are prone to ask questions. Therefore it is important to consider how much you are going tell them, without projecting large amounts of anxiety onto them. The important thing is that the children feel safe and understand it is best for them to stay at home. Younger children may be satisfied with a simple response, such as “we’re not allowed to go on adventures at the moment.”

Older Children

Children over the age of 7 or 8 will be more aware of what is going on in the world. Therefore they are likely to need more reassurance to understand the need for isolation. It is reasonable to expect they will have overheard adults talking or the news.

When you are talking to your child about the need to isolate (assuming one of your immediate family is not affected), then start from a position of acting to stay safe.

The conversation might be structured along these lines:

  1. Identify the problem – the pandemic that is making lots of people unwell;
  2. Reassure them that you are doing everything you can to help make sure that none of you become ill;
  3. Explain that to do this the Government have asked people to stay home (this depersonalises it from a decision you made and reduces the likelihood of frustration being aimed at you);
  4. Explain how you are going to achieve this;
  5. Listen to your child and answer any questions they may have.

Teenagers

As with older children, teenagers are likely to be aware of the impact of the pandemic and may even know families who have been affected by the Coronavirus. Because of this increased awareness, they are more likely to have anxieties or concerns, their own views or opinions about isolation, and may even have been researching the pandemic on the internet.

This then makes the conversation with your teen more of a listening supportive conversation, rather than an information giving conversation with younger children.

The conversation might be structured along these lines:

  1. Identify the problem – ask them what they know about the pandemic already and fill in any gaps they have;
  2. Reassure them that you are doing everything you can to help protect all of you;
  3. Ask what they think about the isolation and how they think they will cope;
  4. Listen to your child and answer any questions they may have.

Read next: Managing Behaviour in Isolation

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