How to explain the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown to your children

It can be daunting but kids have a right to know what's happening.
It can be daunting but kids have a right to know what's happening. Photo credit: Getty.

The COVID-19 pandemic is uncharted territory for everyone and explaining what's happening to young children can be tricky. 

Questions about New Zealand's "new normal" might be daunting but there are ways to have the conversation without causing stress to your kids. 

Registered psychologist Sara Chatwin says the best way to explain the virus is to be honest.

"Explain honestly and with simple words - this is new territory for all of us," she told Newshub.

For younger kids who might not understand why they can't go out and play with their mates there's no need to complicate things by using big words. 

"Explain to your kids that there's a sickness going around and to keep ourselves safe we can't hug people and we need to be careful," says Chatwin.

"So tell them if they see their friend Joey while they're on a walk with Mum and Dad that we can wave, but we can't run over and play, because we might get sick."

Don't catastrophise or use language which might frighten your kids but don't shy away from the truth. Children always understand more than adults give them credit for and they have a right to know what is happening in the world. 

"I'm in favour of being honest," says Chatwin.

"This is happening, and it's happening to all of us - we need to understand that it's scary enough for adults, let alone kids."

It's a good idea to let younger children come to you with their concerns rather than starting the conversation yourself. 

Chatwin says if kids do want to talk about what's happening, parents need to make sure they are actively listening to what they have to say.

"Give them the opportunity to have a voice, because a lot of kids don't feel like they have that," she says.

Older kids and teenagers may not come to their parents for advice but it's important to watch their behaviour to see if they need help. Things like sleeping more or less, changes to their eating habits, or seeming more moody and angry could all indicate that something isn't right.

"They may not come to you so you have to be ready to step in."

When it comes to things like watching the news or browsing the internet, Chatwin says a parent's first responsibility is to know what their kids are watching.

"Monitor the input they're getting - if that means checking computer histories, then do that. Make sure you know what information they're getting," she told Newshub.

At the end of the day, it's up to parents to decide what their kids should be watching. 

"It's all very dependent on age, how you've socialised your kid and what you think they can handle. Parents know their kids best," she says.

Chatwin says while the lockdown is uncharted territory for everyone, parents can use it as an opportunity to  spend quality time together as a family. 

"Take the time because we all have it now. We have this opportunity to be close to our kids, and we should use this valuable time to sit down, talk and figure out what's going on,"

"We may never get a chance like this again - hopefully we won't!"

Above all, parents should believe in their own skills.

"I think people lose their confidence, but they shouldn't. They know their kids better than anyone, and a parent is the architect of their child's destiny."