The Caring for Life approach to coronavirus

Do you assume your children don’t know about coronavirus? ACTAsia Programmes Director and mother-of-two, Dawn Peacock, considers an empathetic approach to explaining coronavirus to our children.

As adults, we think it’s our role to worry, and protect our families, in the hope our children will go along with what we say is best. It’s easy to be fooled into thinking that exposure to media and news, and that overhearing our chat with other adults goes over their heads, but sometimes we’re wrong. Children pick up on our anxieties, talk to each other about what they’ve overheard and not necessarily understood, and find new themes of worry which can affect their behaviour and wellbeing. Wherever we live in the world, the coronavirus should give us an opportunity to listen, talk to and reassure children over their concerns.


Usually, when danger is lurking, as adults, parents or guardians we explain what our response will be, what will likely happen, and what the outcome will be. And more often than not the conversation ends with ‘Don’t worry, we will be fine’. In the case of coronavirus, we have no idea. This is new for everyone, and that’s scary. Listening to the media, including the myriad of misinformation and panicked people getting upset add to the concern both children and adults feel.

It’s our responsibility to talk to our children about what we do know, what is working to help prevent the spread of illness such as self-isolation and hand-washing, and explain why we are not attending events or our family has changed habitual behaviours. Perhaps your child has suggestions and can feel helpful and involved; taking action reduces fear.

It’s important to talk to children and find out what their concerns are. Often children have a simplistic view i.e. ‘If I get coronavirus, I will die’. Explain what we know in an age-appropriate way which they can understand. Children will usually ask questions, so be careful not to dismiss these but be open and try to answer. If you don’t have an answer, say so, and suggest working together to find an answer, or explain we may have to wait to find out.

Depending on the age of the child you will be able to explain how immunity works and that looking after ourselves by eating healthily, lots of vegetables, drinking water, helps us to stay strong through illnesses. Children may want to help prepare menus with this in mind.

You may want to use the Ladder of Inference as a framework for discussion, a vital tool on our Caring for Life curriculum for children, to help them make decisions. Crucially this structure will give you the chance to correct any misunderstandings or fill in any knowledge gaps that can lead to confusion or prejudice.

Your child may be concerned for others. Welcome their empathy and compassion, and support them if they have practical suggestions for how to help others, such as shopping for elderly neighbours, or writing cards for people who are self-isolated. Recognise their kindness and willingness to help others.

If mandatory quarantine happens, explain to children why it’s necessary. This has been happening for weeks in China, started recently in Italy, and it is a possibility in the future for many countries, so explain in advance. Ask children to help with shopping lists and plans of what they can do. Get prepared, download e-books relevant to your child’s school topics, teachers will be able to suggest. Are there spelling or math applications you can download in advance (if you don’t have them already). Teachers will be your secret weapon and will be working on preparedness plans themselves.

It is likely that you will also have to work from home when possible, so explain this and the demands on your time to children, so they know what to expect. When you have time dedicated to them, stick to it; you are their role model and your commitment to your employment and duties will be something that slightly older children can learn from.

Be wary of ‘online learning’ where the child is watching videos for hours on end. The Caring for Life Education curriculum for children actively avoids this method of learning as we focus on inquiry led and activity based learning to ensure maximum opportunity. Watching videos enters the realm of ‘passive learning’, which, at best can gain 50% effectiveness. We encourage active or participatory teaching methods which can have between 50% and 90% effectiveness.

When it comes to it, try to enjoy your enforced time together. See it as a chance to reconnect with your kids, and perhaps we’ll all learn something new from the experience.

Here are some practical tips on how to survive isolation with your children

• Openly communicate and listen to children and their concerns, build this into a daily routine.
• Keep up-to-date with safety measures, explain these to children. Explain self-isolation and quarantine.
• Enjoy making up a song to sing while washing hands.‘Happy Birthday’ has been suggested, can you do better? Practise good handwashing techniques.
• Keep a routine, set wake up and sleep times, getting up dressed etc. and meal times. Keep to times for learning and studying and keep rest and relaxation separate.
• Use the time as an opportunity: reconnect, learn your child’s interests, what they enjoy doing, what they are learning in school?
• Talk to teachers – ask them for advice and what e-learning platforms are available, are there any they promote as a school? Is there scope for teachers and children to interact, to set and monitor tasks?
• Check parental controls on internet safety settings and encourage children to be online in a space where an adult is present.
• Use e-learning to support emerging skills, developing skills and to consolidate learning.
• Look for platforms that include activity-based learning, quizzes, matching activities, suggested projects, presentations, collaboration with others (safely) or sharing presentations or speeches between peers.