Helping kids make sense of Ebola
by Jimmy Bellamy
Your young child has seen or heard news coverage about Ebola, which has led to questions or noticeable worries from your little one. What do you do?
Mike Troy, Ph.D., LP, medical director of behavioral health services at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, provides some helpful tips for parents confronted with questions from their kids.
Answer questions asked
“It’s important for parents to respond to what their child is asking rather than making assumptions about what you think he or she needs to know,” Dr. Troy said. “Make sure you’re addressing your child’s concerns, talking in ways that match their development level.”
READ (from AAP): What parents need to know about Ebola
“Be honest and reassuring in a way that’s developmentally appropriate and consistent with how you would typically talk about other concerning issues,” Dr. Troy said. “For very young kids and preschool-age children, they can imagine a lot of things, so they need reassurance and basic information without excessive detail. For this age group, reassurance from a trusted adult is more important than a logical, fact-based explanation.
“Whereas a school-age child in second, third or fourth grade may need reassurance as to why they personally are safe. For these children, accurate facts and a simple, logical explanation may be helpful. You can say things like, ‘It’s hard to actually get the disease’ and ‘So far it hasn’t been detected in Minnesota, and it’s safe to go to school.’ ”
Here are a few other facts that you can share with your children if they have concerns:
- Although Ebola is a real problem in some parts of the world, they remain safe.
- Our health care system is among the best in the world for taking care of sick people.
- Ebola is rare and does not exist everywhere. When cases are found, the person with the infection is taken to a safe place to be cared for so that they can get better and not make anyone else sick.
- Ebola is difficult to spread and is not an airborne virus, unlike the common cold. It does not spread through air, food, water or by touching things like a keyboard, desk or money.
- Doctors and scientists who know a lot about Ebola are working hard to find ways to prevent or cure this illness.
Monitor what the child sees, hears and reads
“It’s absolutely reasonable to monitor your child’s news and social media consumption,” Dr. Troy said. “Because the coverage has been pervasive and often sensationalized, it’s prudent, especially with younger kids, to limit how much they’re exposed to it.”
Make your child feel at ease
The goal for adults caring for children is to help them feel safe without needing frequent reassurance. If reassurance is necessary, then the most important thing to emphasize is how rare the disease is in the U.S.
Jimmy Bellamy is social media specialist at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.