How to talk to kids about the pandemic as COVID cases skyrocket

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Experts say it’s important for parents to have honest, age-appropriate conversations with children about the state of the pandemic (Photo: Getty Images).

The COVID-19 pandemic has been full of twists and turns, and now there’s another to deal with: the rise of the Omicron variant. This variant quickly spread around the world less than a month after being declared a variant of concern by the World Health Organization (WHO). It is now the dominant strain of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in the United States

All of these changes are important, even for adults. And, if you have kids at home, it’s more than understandable not to know exactly how to tell them about all the changes and unknowns associated with the latest developments in the pandemic.

While it’s hard to prepare for all the questions that may come your way, experts say it’s a good idea to anticipate at least some of the big issues. You also don’t necessarily want to wait for your child to approach you – it helps to be proactive, Dr. Lawrence Kleinman, professor and vice president of pediatrics at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, tells Yahoo Life.

“COVID and how we respond to it impact the lives of children in real time,” he says. “We want to talk to them and we also have to do it in a developmentally responsible way. saying a young child is different from an older child is different from a teenager. “

You also want to make sure they get reliable information from you on anything they can hear from friends or anyone else. “There is so much information and misinformation. It is essential that children know what information they should listen to,” Melissa Santos, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine and division chief of psychology pediatrician at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, tells Yahoo Life. “Having the opportunities to talk to our children about the pandemic, what they should know and what they hear, and allowing them to share their concerns is invaluable. “

Your child may have various concerns about the pandemic, but experts say these are some of the most important questions to be prepared to answer.

When will the pandemic be over?

It’s a tough question that even the best public health experts must answer. Admitting that there is no clear end date is important, Kleinman says. “That’s a really tough question,” University of Buffalo pediatric infectious disease specialist Dr. Mark Daniel Hicar told Yahoo Life. “Most experts believe that as we build up sufficient immunity in the population and with the way viruses naturally interact with humans, it will become similar to influenza, when we have a season to ourselves. worry and maybe booster shots once a year or every few years. “

Santos says you can also just say to your child, “It’s hard to say, but we know so much more today about how to stay safe during this pandemic.”

What are vaccines really used for?

Hicar recommends making sure you tell your child that the vaccines will not give you COVID-19. Instead, explain to them that “vaccines show your immune system a little bit of infection so that your immune system can build up its defenses to fight the infection,” he says.

Children – and some adults – may not understand how they can still contract COVID-19 when they have been fully immunized, and taking care of that is also important. “Vaccines don’t stop you from getting COVID,” Santos recommends. “They work hard to keep you from getting really sick if you contract COVID.”

Why do we have to wear a mask if we are vaccinated?

COVID-19 vaccines opened to children aged five and over in November, and many were happy to mask themselves less often or not at all after being fully immunized. Unfortunately, the winter spate of COVID-19 cases and the rapid spread of the highly infectious variant of Omicron make this difficult.

Kleinman recommends saying that “although the vaccine reduces the risk of getting an infection and makes it less likely that you will be very sick if you do get an infection, it does not completely prevent infection. Santos says it’s also important to let children know that they are part of a bigger effort to protect themselves and others. “This is how we do our part to keep ourselves and everyone else healthy,” she says.

If we are all vaccinated, why are we at risk?

It requires a few layers of answers, Kleinman says. While the majority of eligible people in the country – 65% – are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, there is still a solid portion that is unvaccinated. “It’s a problem,” Kleinman says, noting that we are not yet at levels that will allow us to achieve collective immunity. And, given the risk of major infections with Omicron, there is always a risk that they or other family members will get sick.

“If everyone in your family is vaccinated and everyone they interact with is vaccinated and everyone with whom they or they interact with being vaccinated, then the risk of serious illness is quite low, ”Kleinman says. “But it’s unlikely. Hicar says it’s also important to talk to your child about how, although the vaccine should keep them from getting very sick if they get COVID-19, “Even the best vaccines don’t 100 percent prevent diseases in all people “.

Why do the plans keep changing?

Whether it’s the response to COVID-19, masking recommendations, or even plans you make as a family, there are a lot of changes associated with experiencing a global pandemic. Santos suggests saying this: “Scientists are working very hard to learn all they can about COVID, and as they learn new information, we are learning things we should be doing more and things we are not doing. we should be doing less. That’s why you can see things. changing.”

If you have a child who is worried or seems anxious about the pandemic, Santos recommends listening to them. “Allow children to express their fears without making them feel like they are wrong, but reassure them that everyone is working to keep them safe,” she says. At the same time, says Santos, it’s important for your child to see you adopt healthy behaviors on how to relax, such as going for a walk, doing yoga, or just trying to find time to relax. “It may also be beneficial to incorporate regular relaxation time or time to do things that allow them to decompress, into your child’s schedule,” says Santos. “It can vary for children to go out for a run, to breathe through their stomachs, to write, to draw or to do a puzzle.”

When it comes to talking about COVID, Santos suggests that you keep this in mind: “Keep the message short, factual, and to the point.” Then, if they seem happy with your conversation, move on. At the same time, Hicar stresses the importance of being honest. “They will hear all kinds of things from different sources, so try to answer them as honestly as possible without trying to hide things from them,” he says.

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