For Worth, Texas,
14:54 PM

How to talk to your kids about Ebola

Tips so your children won't panic from what they hear on the news

Ebola virus. Enterovirus 68. Chikungunya. The return of the measles, whooping cough and soon the flu.

We’ve spent a lot of time recently talking to you grownups out there about all of these conditions in an effort to inform you, but also hopefully to calm your nerves.

But what about your kids? It’s easy to understand why they would panic, especially if they hear of school-aged children being kept home or other kids simply afraid to go to school in fear of Ebola. And it’s all happening in Dallas, so close to where many of them live.

So, what do you say to them?

A lot of it has to do with their age and how much they can comprehend, according to two of our licensed child psychologists at Cook Children’s.

Joy Crabtree, a licensed psychologist for Cook Children’s Behavioral Health in Southlake, said the most important thing parents can do is be there for their children. If your children come to you with questions about anything scary in the news, reassure them that you love them and are there for them. Tell them the chances of them getting a disease such as the Ebola virus is rare. For example, one of the main symptoms of Ebola is fever yet, reassure your child that unless they or someone in their family has travelled to West Africa, or come in contact with anyone from that region, their fever is no more dangerous than any other time they had a fever. We get fever from a lot of things and recover. Answer the questions they ask you, but don’t go off on tangents that will increase their fear. Make sure you know the facts and check them with a reputable source. Don’t drift into other areas that may cause your children discomfort.

Your older children may not want to talk to you about the issues of the day, try to put up a brave front or be blissfully unaware. You know your children better than anyone. If you feel your children are old enough and/or mature enough, and you feel they have heard about it anyway, you might consider bringing up recent events from the news to get their opinion, and to offer reassurance and support.

“For older children, they may have a few initial questions based on what they’ve heard on the news or from friends at school,” Crabtree said. “Make sure that you are giving them accurate information. Make sure to reassure your child, but also let them know that bad things do happen in life. We have to be careful and cautious, but we also can’t live in fear of the unknown. We have to live life to the fullest. You might also let them know that just like there are people (doctors, nurses, etc.) whose job it is to take care of kids, there are people, such as the public health department, whose job it is to take care of communities. They let us know when there is danger and what to do.

Lisa Elliott, a licensed psychologist and clinic manager at the Cook Children’s Psychology clinic in Denton said to keep younger children, elementary age, away from the news and don’t talk to them about something like Ebola unless they ask you. There’s no need to bring up a fearful topic to children, unless it’s for their own good.

For older children, Elliott said ,“There has to be limits to the news and it has to be age appropriate. The older kids can become fixated on bad news sometimes. Help your older children process what they are hearing and make sense of the news. But at the same time, limit them on the amount of news they are watching or reading about. They don’t need to dwell on the issue.”

As for your kids or yourself, Elliott adds it’s a good idea for the entire family to get away from the news and spend some family time together.

After all, the most important thing is to be there for your children.

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Cook Children's Behavioral Health services provides a broad range of care that focuses on children from 3 years through 17, and their families. We also have some limited services available for children age 2. As part of family-centered care all of our professionals are qualified both through education and experience to work with children who have behavioral and emotional challenges. Our psychiatrists are board certified in child and adolescent psychiatry and our psychologists and therapists are all licensed independently in Texas.