WHAT TO TELL YOUR CHILDREN ABOUT EBOLA by Dr. Henry Paul, MD

It is scary to watch the news and hear about Ebola. With a 24-hour news cycle making Ebola the top news it’s no wonder that adults and young people are confused, scared and anxious about this disease. Hearing that two schools closed in Ohio last week because of Ebola, and then that a nurse traveled on a commercial flight and that health officials are now contacting all the passengers, is frightening.

Ebola-Virus-Word-ShapesIt’s important to speak with your children about Ebola. Having said that, it is important for parents first to understand the disease and to calm their fears and anxieties, as children often take their cues from parents on how to react in difficult situations. The younger the children, the more likely they are to watch your reaction to the news rather than the news itself.

There is some good information out there about Ebola. The disease is rare, but it does cause severe illness. Here is a link to a very good overview of the disease that includes symptoms and treatment. Once you are comfortable with your understanding of the disease then, you should set aside some time to sit down with your child or children together. Listen to their concerns and fears. There are no “right” or “wrong” answers when discussing their concerns. Just try to be comforting and informative. Answer their questions honestly and assure them that you understand their anxiety about the Ebola. Explain the facts and offer them assurances in a language that is appropriate for their age. Make sure that the details you share are also age appropriate. With older children you may want to go online with them to look at fact sheets or visit sites like the CDC, WHO or a news site that you feel appropriately addresses the issues without an over-abundance of fear added in. Realize that that your child or children may come back to you many, many times with new questions and looking for additional assurances over the next few weeks or months or however long Ebola dominates the news.

The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry has a good checklist for talking with your children. Click here to read it.

In an article that appeared on WBUR’s Common Health on October 2nd, we are reminded that the United States is capable of dealing with this disease and that there are other diseases that can cause more harm based on the chance a child will get it. “……Experts agree that our medical infrastructure is well-equipped to handle even a virus as scary as Ebola, and some doctors are quick to point out viruses like respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and influenza are much more likely to cause harm than these new ones.”

For parents, who after speaking to their child, are concerned that their child is still obsessed and anxious about Ebola, they should speak with a mental health professional (i.e. school social worker, pediatrician, child psychiatrist).

DISCLAIMER

Information contained in this blog is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended as medical or psychiatric advice for individual conditions or treatment and does not substitute for a medical or psychiatric examination. A psychiatrist must make a determination about any treatment or prescription. Dr. Paul does not assume any responsibility or risk for the use of any information contained within this blog.