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Northern Pen - 2020-03-25

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Talking to children

OPINION

With three confirmed cases of children having coronavirus in Canada — as of this writing — parents’ concerns may be understandably heightened. One of the children affected in this country is in Alberta, the others are in New Brunswick and Ontario. But before parents let their fears spiral, it’s important to put the numbers in context. A recent scientific paper from JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that of 72,314 cases of COVID-19 in China, where the pandemic has had its firmest grip so far, only one per cent or so were children aged nine years or younger, and roughly the same percentage were aged 10 to 19 years, and “no deaths occurred in the group aged nine years and younger.” As Infection Prevention and Control Canada says of the study in China, “Children made up 2.4 per cent of the cases and almost none was severely ill.” Still, it’s hard not to worry, and worried parents’ anxieties are often transmitted to their children. That’s why it’s important to talk to children about coronavirus and try to allay their fears as best we can. Norway’s prime minister, Erna Solberg, and the prime minister of Denmark, Mette Frederiksen, both held news conferences recently expressly for children, in order to answer their questions directly. (It’s an idea we’ve shared with the Prime Minister’s Office in Ottawa). During Solberg’s news conference with Norwegian kids, the questions included everything from why birthday parties had to be cancelled to queries about the prime minister’s own health. Children today are more plugged into the world than ever, and we need to give them accurate information — appropriate for their age group — so that they aren’t frightened further by the misinformation that is running rampant on the internet. “It has been special days . ... Many children think it is scary,” Solberg said, as reported by Reuters news service. “It is OK to be scared when so many things happen at the same time.” Experts say it’s as important not to minimize children’s fears as it is not to exacerbate them. Dr. Janine Hubbard, a psychologist in St. John’s, says one thing parents can do is remind their children that while people they know and love may get sick because of coronavirus, they can get better, too, just as they do when they catch a cold. “The biggest thing is letting them know that there are things they can do, there are things in their power and in their control to try to control things,” Hubbard says. “So, talking about the washing hands, talking about the sneezing and coughing into your sleeve, talking about making sure we’re keeping people safe.” Kids can also be told that scientists are busy working on a vaccine that will combat coronavirus — hopefully before too long. Knowledge is power.

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