This drawing by Ben, 7 years old, Tasmania, shows how children express what they know about the coronavirus in a variety of ways. Author provided
During the pandemic, children were separated from family and friends, schools were closed, and important activities such as playing were restricted.
We know a lot about the physical effects of COVID-19 on children. However, the effects on their mental and emotional wellbeing are less well understood – especially from the perspective of the children themselves.
Our recently published study shows the importance of listening to children, what they have to say and what information they want about COVID-19.
Here’s what we did
We participated in an international study with children from six countries – UK, Spain, Canada, Sweden, Brazil and Australia.
We have recruited children through our professional and social networks, such as sports groups and community groups.
We asked children, ages seven to 12, how they accessed information about COVID-19, how they understood the virus, and why they were asked to stay home.
The survey was open when Tasmania, where the Australian arm of the study was located, had the highest restrictions. A total of 49 children from Tasmania took part in the survey and 390 children internationally.
There were important differences between countries in the conduct of the survey, including the number of reported cases and deaths from COVID-19, as well as government responses and the level of restrictions.
For example, reported deaths and cases were much higher in countries like the UK and Brazil than in Australia, and children in Sweden continued to go to school while most children in other countries studied from home.
Here’s what we found
In different countries there were many similarities in the things that are important for children, what they had to say and what they wanted to know. But there were also differences between countries and between children.
More than half of the children said they knew a lot or quite a bit about COVID-19. Your comments include:
- “It’s a stupid virus.”
- “It’s spreading very quickly.”
- “People downplay it and tell me it can’t kill people, but I know people die every day.”
But they also had questions:
- “How and where did it start?”
- “What does the coronavirus actually look like?”
- “How does it make you feel bad?”
Some said they didn’t want to know anything more about the virus:
- “It is boring.”
- “I don’t want to know about it because it kills people and that makes me sad.”
Children expressed different feelings about COVID-19. They said they felt “concerned”, “scared”, “angry” and “confused”.
Children knew that the virus was particularly dangerous for people in need of protection:
“It can potentially kill old and unhealthy people.”
And they missed their friends and family:
“When can we go back to school?”
Children received information about COVID-19 from various sources, mainly parents and teachers. Children also sought information from friends, TV shows, and the Internet, including social media.
The children understood what the ward was asked to do and learned the meanings of new words and concepts. So they knew what social distancing meant and that they had to stay 1.5m apart.
Children were also aware of important public health messages about washing hands, not touching faces, and staying home “to save lives”.
Why is that important?
Children have played an important role in society’s response to COVID-19. Her significant contributions to limiting the spread of the virus have included separating family and friends and restricting important activities that are part of her “normal” life.
However, the effects on children’s lives and wellbeing are largely unconfirmed. Their contributions should be recognized and thanked for their part.
Children have the right to receive information in a form that is appropriate for their safety and wellbeing. Children need to have the opportunity to ask questions and learn what COVID-19 means for them with adults they trust, including parents and teachers.
Children have questions about COVID-19. The questions are different for each child and not all children want the same amount of information.
What can adults do?
Adults should use the time and space to talk to children. You can ask:
- “What would you like to know?”
- “What do you want to ask?”
This approach means that children are empowered to identify their needs and concerns, and that the information provided to them is relevant and appropriate to their needs.
Keep up to date with the latest news on the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak provided by The Conversation
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Quote: We asked children around the world what they know about COVID. This is what they said (2021, March 2), accessed March 2, 2021 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2021-03-children-world-knew-covid.html
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