Ebola can be a scary and sensitive topic. Given the news coverage, children may ask questions or worry that they or their loved ones might become infected. We’ve talked with our pediatric specialists in mental health and infectious diseases to provide guidance for parents on how to talk with children.
Our specialists offer the following suggestions on how to talk to your children about Ebola:
Listen to your children
Allow your child to express their concerns and ask questions about the disease. Do not force them to talk about anything until they're ready. When they've expressed interest, find out what they know to sort out fact from fear, and help children find accurate information. Stay informed of developments, according to Paramjit Joshi, MD, Chief of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine at Children's National.
Limit exposure to media
Dr. Joshi also suggests one of the most important steps parents should take is to limit their children’s exposure to media coverage. Viewing images or hearing descriptions about countries that are coping with an outbreak of Ebola will only heighten a child’s anxiety.
Acknowledge your own concerns, and use terms and concepts that children can understand.
"They don’t need to do anything differently than they normally would," said Roberta DeBiasi, MD, Division Chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Children's National. "They may be hearing news stories about people infected in the United States but these are a small number of people who helped to care for these patients as part of their job as a doctor or nurse.
Be reassuring about their safety
Tell children that doctors and scientists are working hard to prevent and cure this rare virus. "I would tell children that Ebola is a bad infection and our country is trying to help those people,” advises Dr. DeBiasi. “There are no cases in the general public and we do not expect there to be any.”
Also be sure you're getting information from a reputable source, like the CDC.
Remember that children personalize things
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests parents explain that people with Ebola are taken to a "safe place to be cared for so that he can get better and not make anyone else sick."
Dr. Joshi also suggests parents should monitor their children’s behavior and physical and emotional state for signs of anxiety.
Emphasize low risk
Because the risk of contracting Ebola requires direct contact with bodily fluid of someone who is infected, the risk of contracting Ebola is very low, especially compared to the flu or other respiratory viruses, medical expert say.
"It's not like a cold or the flu virus," Dr. DeBiasi said. Parents should explain that it is much harder to get Ebola than it is a flu or cold.
It’s also a great time to talk with your family about proper hygiene, like handwashing, and how to protect against illnesses.
Parents should take measures to prevent the spread of other seasonal bugs, such as flu. Now is a good time to get you and your family vaccinated against the flu.