How to talk to your child about an emergency situation

In emergency situations, it is desirable that an adult who is in close relationship with the child and is able to speak honestly and calmly talks to a child. They should be ready to respond to the child’s different emotional expressions

UNICEF Armenia
Մայրիկը հանգիստ զրուցում է աղջկա հետ, ով նստած է դպրոցի լուսամոտագոգին։
UNICEF Armenia/2019/Pizzoferatto
27 September 2021

In emergency situations, an adult who is in a close relationship with the child and can speak honestly and calmly should talk to a child. They should be ready to respond to the child’s different emotional expressions and answer their questions clearly. It is imperative to create a safe, trusting environment, so that the child can freely express their thoughts, ask questions, and so forth. It is also important for a child to realize that the adult is focused on their conversation and not preoccupied with other things. For this purpose, it is necessary to be at eye level with a child and to regularly make eye contact with them.

If the child does not mind, you can also hug them, hold their hand, etc. The conversations should be built based on the child’s reactions. The child should never be rushed.

Let’s explore some of the practical skills that will be useful in such conversations, which we have developed in collaboration with the psychologists from the "Parenting School" Parenting, Educational, and Psychological Support Center NGO.

1 During the conversation, it is imperative to listen and accept the child’s thoughts and ideas without criticizing, demeaning, patronizing, or outright rejecting them.

Իլուստրացիա, որտեղ պատկերված է զրւոյց երեխայի և մոր միջև։
ՅՈՒՆԻՍԵՖ, Ծնողի դպրոց ՀԿ

- I just know it. We’re going to get sick too!

- Don’t say stupid things! That can’t happen to us!

Իլուստրացիա, որտեղ մայրը զրուցում է երեխայի հետ։
ՅՈՒՆԻՍԵՖ, Ծնողի դպրոց ՀԿ

- I just know it. We’re going to get sick too!

- You think we’ll also get sick? Though we do our best not to get infected, it can happen; we can also get sick. And if we do, we will immediately seek medical help, follow doctors’ orders, and recover.

Unlike in the first scenario, in which the parent rejects what the child says and immediately stops the conversation, in the second scenario the parent listens and accepts what he says. This is a good foundation for continuing the conversation constructively.

2. To make the child feel heard and understood, one should regularly respond to their emotions and needs.

Իլուստրացիա, որտեղ զրույց է մոր և աղջկա միջև։

- Mom, let’s stay at home to avoid getting infected.

- No! We have to. Get up! Let’s go!

Իլուստրացիա, որտեղ մայրիկը զրուցում է աղջկա հետ։

- Mom, let’s stay at home to avoid getting infected.

- I understand. You’re worried that if we leave, we might get sick.

Իլուստրացիա, որտեղ մայրը զրուցում է աղջկա հետ։

- Yes, mom. Our classmate Samuel’s dad is in the hospital.

- I know there are people around us who are getting sick. But we can leave the house when it’s necessary. We just have to carefully follow the rules: wearing a mask, keeping distance from people, not putting our hands in our mouths, and so forth. Remember, we also need some fresh air!

In the second scenario, the parent responds to the child’s emotions and feelings. As a result, the child learns to recognize her emotions and feels like her mother understood her.

3. Make the child feel like they are being understood by paraphrasing their ideas and by repeating some of their own words. To paraphrase an idea means to say the same thing in other words.

Իլուստրացիա, որտեղ հայրը խոսում է որդու հետ։
ՅՈՒՆԻՍԵՖ, Ծնողի դպրոց ՀԿ

- I’m going out to spend time with my friends. I’m tired of staying home.
- We’ve told you a thousand times: You can’t go out! You will get infected.

Իլուստրացիա, որտեղ հայրը զրուցում է որդու հետ։
ՅՈՒՆԻՍԵՖ, Ծնողի դպրոց ՀԿ

 - I’m going out to spend time with my friends. I’m tired of staying home.

- I see you that you miss your friends and want to spend time with them.

- Yes, I miss them. I’m calling them to meet up.

- You’re calling?

- Yes!

- I understand, you’re tired of all this. But the chances of getting infected out of the house are very high these days. We spend more time at home, going out only when it is necessary, so that we stay healthy.

- Okay, I’ll just chat with my friends on the phone today too.

By repeating and paraphrasing, the parent shows the child that they hear and understand them. As a result, the child accepts reality and finds a solution to overcome the problem.

 4. Before answering a child’s question, it is important to find out when and how that question arose and what the child thinks about it. To understand the child’s thoughts about a certain issue or situation, we can ask open-ended questions like “What do you think?”, “Why do you think this is so?”, etc.

Իլուստրացիա, որտեղ մպատկերված է զրույց մոր և երեխայի միջև։
ՅՈՒՆԻՍԵՖ, Ծնողի դպրոց ՀԿ

- What is coronavirus?

- It is a very dangerous viral disease that should be avoided because it spreads rapidly and is harmful to our health.

Իլուստրացիա, որտեղ պատկերված է զրույց մոր և երեխայի միջև։
ՅՈՒՆԻՍԵՖ, Ծնողի դպրոց ՀԿ

- What is coronavirus?

- What do you think it is?

- Well, I know this is a dangerous disease, and that you have to be careful not to catch it.

- Yes, it is a dangerous disease that spreads rapidly and is harmful to our health. To avoid it, you need to wash or disinfect your hands often; wear a mask; avoid touching your face or visiting crowded places; keep a certain distance from others; and follow all safety instructions.

By understanding the child’s perception, we can give them more adequate answers.

5. Bearing in mind a child’s perceptions, age, and personal characteristics, it is necessary to talk to them clearly and distinctly, without complicated terms. At the same time, it is necessary to provide only relevant, reliable information that the child can hear and understand, and to present the associated risks and dangers, without scaring the child and without causing too much strain.

Իլուստրացիա՝ զրույց երեխայի և մոր միջև։
ՅՈՒՆԻՍԵՖ, Ծնողի դպրոց ՀԿ

- Is Grandma sick?

- No! Everything is fine with her. She’s just on vacation.

Իլուստրացիա՝ զրույց մոր և աղջկա միջև։
ՅՈՒՆԻՍԵՖ, Ծնողի դպրոց ՀԿ

- Is Grandma sick?

- It so happened that Grandma got sick and that she is being treated at the hospital. We can’t visit her, but we are in constant contact with her doctors and do everything necessary for her to quickly recover. During this time, we can communicate with Grandma by phone or video call; we can write letters or draw pictures for her; and so forth. Hopefully she’ll be home soon!

- Okay. Can we call Grandma now and tell her that I’ll draw a picture for her?

In the second scenario, the parent tells the child the truth, without burdening her with negative information.

6. Talk to your child about your feelings. Tell them how you feel about the situation.

Իլուստրացիա՝ զրույց հոր և դստեր միջև։
ՅՈՒՆԻՍԵՖ, Ծնողի դպրոց ՀԿ

- I wish that all this was over and that we could go on about our normal lives.

- Well, you have no choice but to endure it.

 

Իլուստրացիա՝ զրույց հոր և դստեր միջև։
ՅՈՒՆԻՍԵՖ, Ծնողի դպրոց ՀԿ

- I wish that all this was over and that we could go on about our normal lives.

- Oh, I completely understand. I don’t like these restrictions either, and I really want to go back to our old lives.

In this example, the parent also shares his feelings with the child. In these situations, the parent can ponder with the child; they can imagine what they can do when it is possible to go out again, like see friends, visit different places, etc.

Be optimistic, emphasizing the positive aspects of the situation. This is useful both for you and for your child, and it can yield positive results. Even if the situation is difficult and volatile, the child may not be able to identify any positive aspects if you don’t bring them up.  

 

  • What if you or Dad get sick?
  • If we get sick, we will seek professional medical advice and receive care either at home or in the hospital. If treated at home, we will be together, but we’ll have to limit our interactions. There is no need to worry if any member of our family needs to be treated at a hospital. Remember that you will not be alone and that there will always be people to take care of you.
  • What if I get sick?
  • Luckily, this disease is usually mild in children; children tend to recover quickly. In case you do need treatment, we will be by your side and do everything possible to ensure a speedy recovery.

 


Having a positive attitude is crucial for a child and those around them when trying to overcome such situations.

Children can have different questions during and after an emergency situation. Regardless of a question’s nature and motive, it is important to respond to the child by either answering at that moment or by postponing for a certain period (in this case, be sure to return to the conversation within the promised time). In case you find it difficult to answer the question, you can say: “I do not know everything about this myself, but I will try to answer your question to the best of my knowledge.”

Children’s questions—and our answers—can be very diverse. Regardless of the question, applying the principles above will help make for a more effective parent-child relationship.

Children’s questions—and our answers—can be very diverse. Regardless of the question, applying the principles above will help make for a more effective parent-child relationship.


This content is produced as part of the project funded by the UK Government’s Conflict, Stability and Security Fund. The opinions expressed in this video are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the UK Government.