Locally and across the country, we are being bombarded with stories of illness. Children are often faced with a flurry of incoming information which could be confusing or scary to them. Unless we ask, as parents we often have no idea just how much our children know about these difficult subjects.
The latest Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak has been all over the news. On September 30, 2014, the CDC confirmed the first travel-associated case of Ebola to be diagnosed in the United States. Newark Liberty International Airport has been named one of 20 Quarantine Stations around the country staffed with medical and public health officials who serve to limit the introduction and spread of diseases into the United States.
Children are curious beings. As word spreads about this serious illness, it’s only natural that kids will want to know if they are at risk and what would happen to them if they got the disease. They may wonder about the safety of family members and friends who are in the health care profession. For those families with relatives living in or near the more seriously affected countries, concerns can be even higher.
Check your facts. Before sitting down with your children, take the time to educate yourself on Ebola. Visit websites such as the World Health Organization (WHO) or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to find out information from a trustworthy source.
Check your emotions. Children often learn how to respond to situations by modeling the behavior of the adults around them. If you panic, they will panic. By staying calm and reassuring, you can acknowledge everyone’s fears while still presenting enough facts to help alleviate some of them.
Monitor your social media and news coverage. When reading about serious issues, it’s important to watch for little eyes nearby. If your child can read and would be likely to look at your computer, newspaper or magazines, be sure sensitive or detailed information is tucked away until you’re ready to discuss it on an age appropriate level.
Consider the source. Be wary of where you’re getting information from and what access your child has to the same information. Even when reporting all the facts, some stories are intentionally alarmist, aimed, first and foremost, at getting your attention. Satirical “news” websites like The Onion and The Daily Currant have already featured articles about Ebola and these stories often get shared around social media as though they are fact. Always check the source of the information you read and urge children to bring any fears and questions they have to your attention so you can address them.
Children should protect themselves from illness all the time. This is a good time to remind kids that all of us should work to remain healthy and stop the spread of illnesses and diseases. Frequent hand washing, staying home when sick, coughing into an elbow or tissue (with proper disposal of used tissues emphasized for many kids!) are all important especially at this time of year. Ebola, and many other illnesses, are spread through contact with bodily fluids of those infected, so kids should be encouraged to never touch the fluids of their friends. Remind children that protecting their health and encouraging a strong immune system by eating properly, staying hydrated and getting plenty of rest are also good ideas.
There’s no doubt that Ebola is scary. Reassuring children that they are safe and the adults around them are taking every precaution possible to keep them that way is paramount. Stay calm, stay educated and stay healthy.