Dr Matthew Cullen, Psychiatrist, St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney
Reassuring your kids about COVID-19 is a challenge. And I think the way you approach it is actually influenced by how old the kids are. So what you talk to a teenager about, is very different to what you would discuss with a 10 or 11 or a 12-year old, which would be very different to the discussion you’d have with a 4, 5 or 6-year old.
Thinking about your kids, thinking about their maturity, thinking about what is relevant for them is a starting point. So having looked at your kids into, and I’ve broadly broken them into 3 age cohorts. The next thing is, what is age appropriate?
Teenagers want no rubbish. They want the truth. You need to be transparent. And in fact, they’ll be all over it. They’ll be reading it, they’ll be talking about it with their friends. They’ll be actually pretty informed, but also quite misinformed. So if you’re gonna have a conversation with teenagers, you need to get your facts straight, and help them with accurate information. Or, encourage them to go to somewhere which is trusted and authoritative, that will provide them with the right information.
With really young kids, they don’t want and in fact they don’t need to know everything. So the degree of transparency that you need to have is a lot less. It’s far more important to talk about the positive side of things. The fact that you will get through this. And know what their biggest concern probably will be if something happens to you, ie. your parents.
So it’s important with that age group to take on a very strong parental role and in many respects, protect them from information that’s likely to make them feel more anxious.
So those two groups are actually relatively easy to deal with because the approaches are very, very different. And then in the middle group, I hate to say it, really does depend on the child. If they’re drifting more to the teenage end of the spectrum, I think you need to approach it much more transparently. If they’re drifting to more the younger age of the spectrum, you have to probably be more protective.
What is important though, in all of this, is to answer questions honestly but age appropriately. And that requires careful thought and a measured, well-structured response I think under certain situations. Thinking through what is the core worry that young kids will have versus what teenagers will have?