Yesterday, my third-grader had a friend over. Later that night, I found out his pal spiked a fever when he got home. I promptly attacked my house with Lysol, wiped everything down with Clorox and ordered my protesting progeny into the shower.
I was mainly worried about the flu, but the coronavirus nibbled at the corners of my mind. It didn’t help that earlier in the day, I’d been to Market Basket, where the shelves were bare of soap, Clorox, Lysol and hand sanitizer. I finally located what seemed to be the last three bottles of Purell in the world at Walgreens. I was only allowed to buy two.
“We have to ration,” the cashier told me apologetically.
Yes, corona panic is real, and why not? The newest cases are covered around the clock, there isn’t a widespread vaccine in sight and the current fatality rates appear to be slightly higher than the flu. There have been nine deaths in the U.S., but since testing seems to be minimal, people are, well, alarmed.
Kez Furth, a registered nurse at Dedham’s The Rashi School, someone who works with germy little kids all day, is considerably more sanguine than people on the internet.
“In Massachusetts, it’s very contained. There’s a very low risk,” she says. She has been going classroom to classroom talking to students about the coronavirus and also fielding pint-sized, concerned visitors at her office.
Here’s how to frame the virus for concerned kids (and your possibly concerned self).
Compare it to the knowable.
Remember that symptoms are similar to the flu for most people. That’s an illness kids can relate to and have likely recovered from.
“Like a lot of schools in Boston, we had, toward the end of January and February, plenty of kids and staff out with the flu. When I’m in classrooms, I’m asking kids, ‘How many of you had the flu or had a family member or friend with the flu?’ And every hand goes up. I remind them that, OK, they didn’t feel great. But then they got better and they’re back in school now. You may be sick; you may have to check in with your doctor. But you will get better and get back to school,” Furth says.
Tone down the hype.
Step away from your phone. “There’s no difference [between corona and the flu] except the hype,” Furth says. “Kids pick up on the fear and the fixations that adults have, and so that’s why kids are talking about it. It’s not that they’re more scared. They look at people around them who are older.”
And so: Make it clear to your kids that they have the tools to keep themselves safe. Wash hands for at least 20 seconds, cough into your elbow and dispose of used tissues right away.
“They’re already equipped to stay healthy,” she says.
Maybe your child is home sick. Bummer, but part of life, and chances are it’s not the coronavirus. Talk to your doctor? Of course. Beyond that? Stay calm.
“A parent needs to make it clear that they as a family are not overly concerned. If your child is sick and you begin to panic and act overly concerned or protective, your child is going to reflect that fear. If you say, ‘Wow, you’re home sick today. I’m sorry you don’t feel good. Let’s pick a movie to watch,’ it normalizes it,” she says.
Can’t find your favorite cleaning product? Soap works, too.
Don’t weep over your lost Lysol. “Honestly, just regular soap and water cleaning is quite effective. That friction on a surface does wonders,” Furth says. She likes dish soap.
Know your kid.
Rashi considers a temperature over 100 degrees a fever, but you know what’s normal for your child. Don’t be shy about reaching out to your doctor if you’re concerned about a symptom—but don’t panic, either.
For in-depth coronavirus information, visit the World Health Organization website.