The following post was written by Erin R. Clancy, MPA, CCLS. She is the Manager of Child Life and Volunteer Services at Our Children’s House at Baylor Dallas.
The children in your lives have likely heard the word Ebola in recent weeks, so it is important for parents to encourage communication with them about the deadly virus.
A child’s age or developmental level will be key in how they understand and interpret this information. Encouraging communication and promoting honesty is vital to helping children feel that it is OK for them to ask questions and gain clarity. Otherwise, they may develop misconceptions that could lead to fear.
In this case, children might be fearful that they could catch Ebola, especially if they are unsure about how it is spread.
STARTING THE CONVERSATION
A parent may simply ask their child, “Can you tell me what you have heard about Ebola?”
This is an easy way to initiate the dialogue. When considering what elements of the disease are relevant to share with children, you will want to look at your child’s development and level of understanding. Again, be honest.
A younger child might be content hearing simply that,“Ebola is something that can make someone very sick.”
An older child, however, might want more. They might ask you more specific questions about the disease, how people catch it and where it came from.
It is OK to tell your children that you do not know the answer to their questions if you honestly do not. Oftentimes, children have asked me questions that I have been unable to answer. If the question could be answered by someone else, I might respond by telling them, “that is a really good question and I am not sure of the answer, but I will do my best to try and find an answer for you.”
Letting your child know that it is OK for them to ask questions allows them to feel safe coming directly to you for answers. Validating a child’s feelings and allowing them a chance to express themselves gives them the opportunity to gain a more honest understanding of what is going on in the world around them.
Having a conversation about Ebola with your children is also a great opportunity to share the importance of proper hand hygiene. Although Ebola may be more serious than a cold or the flu, hand washing continues to be the single best line of defense against preventing the spread of infection.
For more detailed answers to questions about Ebola, talk to your pediatrician or school counselor.
Additional online resources:
“Churnin: When talking to kids about Ebola, stay calm and reassure,” The Dallas Morning News
“Talking to children about Ebola,” Dallas ISD