Honesty, Respect, and Reassurance. These three cardinal rules for sharing bad news with children are worth remembering.
Thankfully, kids don’t often get COVID-19. Less than 2.5% of cases are reported worldwide. When children are infected, they usually become only mildly ill, though asymptomatic infections are not uncommon1. In one study from the Wuhan Children’s Hospital, only 171 of 1391 children (12.3%) assessed and tested for SARS CoV-2 were confirmed to be infected with SARS CoV 2 (median age 6.7 years), with 3 requiring intensive care support and mechanical ventilation and 1 death (all three had numerous comorbidities)2.
Of course, telling a child they are ill is one of the most difficult tasks a health care provider, social worker, parent, or family member might be asked to do. We are fortunate that such a task is only rarely required in today’s COVID-19 pandemic. Teaching all children about the effects and potential impact of COVID-19, on the other hand, is for many of us an almost daily responsibility.
Sometimes, it may be necessary to talk about why a family member or friend was rushed to the hospital. Other times, we may need to explain what is seen or heard on the news or the internet. Children also communicate with each other via social media. Like us, they share stories and are readily exposed to fake news, scary headlines, and other information that may cause fear, panic, or misunderstanding.
In order to address the psychosocial and mental health needs of children everywhere during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Inter-Agency-Standing Committee of the United Nations (IASC) consulted with more than 1700 teachers, caregivers, parents, and children from around the world. Their goal was to write a story created for and by children. This story was published by the IASC under a Creative Commons Attribution so that all users could reproduce, translate and adapt the Work for non-commercial purposes, provided the Work is appropriately cited.
The story is, My Hero Is You: How Kids Can Fight COVID-19.3 This illustrated storybook is meant to be either read to or read with children by an adult. The book can be downloaded for free from the IASC website (see reference 3) as well as from the UNICEF website at https://www.unicef.org/coronavirus/my-hero-you. The UNICEF website also contains helpful links to sections such as “what teenagers need to know,” or “what parents might want to share with their children”.
Numerous translations are already available and downloadable from the above-named websites. I am very proud to say that others are in progress from contributors to our COVIDBRONCH initiative.
Stay well, and stay safe.
- Ong JSM et al. Coronavirus Disease 2019 in Critically ill children: A narrative review of the literature. Pediatric Crit Care Med prep 2020. DOI: 10.1097/PCC.0000000000002376.
- Lu X et al.. SARS C New Engl J Med, March 18, 2020. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMc2005073.
- My hero is you. How kids can fight COVID-19. IASC publication. Helen Patuck (story and illustrations). https://interagencystandingcommittee.org/system/files/2020-04/My%20Hero%20is%20You%2C%20Storybook%20for%20Children%20on%20COVID-19.pdf
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