The Department of Education has published advice for parents and teachers on how to talk to children and young people about Covid-19.

The advice has been developed with the aid of educational psychologists.

It says that children and young people need factual, age appropriate information about the virus and concrete instruction about how to avoid spreading it. 

The document, published on the Department website, advises that without the facts, children often imagine situations to be far worse than they actually are. 

It advises parents and teachers to allow children and young people to ask questions and to use their age as a guide to how much information to provide.

Very young children need brief, simple information and reassurance that they are safe and that the people they care about are safe, the document states. "They may ask 'Will I get sick? Will granny/grandad die?'"

They should be reassured "that the Government is working hard to ensure that people throughout the country stay healthy". 

Parents and teachers should explain that currently very few people in this country are sick with the virus and tell children that not everyone will get the virus and that the vast majority who get it recover fully.

It advises that older children may need help to separate reality from rumour and fantasy.

Either provide or direct them to where they can find accurate, and factual information about the current status of Covid-19. Having such knowledge can help them feel a sense of control.

The document includes a link to an RTÉ news2day video where the Deputy Chief Medical Officer answers common questions.

The Department of Education document advises that children and young people look to the adults in their lives to guide them on how to react to worrying and stressful events. 

"If the adults in their lives seem overly worried, their own anxiety may rise. If they are anxious, let them talk about their feelings and guide them in reframing their thoughts and concerns to a more helpful way of thinking.

"Give them extra attention and time, to talk about their concerns, fears, and questions. Remember they do not always talk about their concerns readily. Watch for clues that they may want to talk, such as hovering around while you do the dishes etc. It is very typical for younger children to ask a few questions, return to playing and then come back with further questions."

It goes on to say that children and young people should be reassured that many stories about Covid-19 on the internet may be based on rumours and inaccurate information. It reminds parents and teachers that factual information about the virus can help reduce anxiety. 

It goes on to advise:

  • Avoid constantly monitoring or discussing updates on the status of Covid -19, as this can increase anxiety
  • Try to limit their access to information on the internet/television/social media that might be upsetting to them 
  • Remind children/young people that no individual or group is "responsible" for the virus.
  • Remind them that they should not make negative comments about others in relation to the virus.
  • Challenge any negative comments they make or any stereotyping. Explain what negative comments mean if they are different to your values.
  • Encourage children/young people to continue with their schoolwork and extracurricular activities, but do not push them if they seem upset or overwhelmed
  • Maintain a normal routine as much as possible; keeping to a regular schedule can be reassuring