Play to Talk: Tips on How to Talk to Kids about Disease

Talk to play to kids about a disease
08.04.2020 research

Children see and hear everything happening around them. They can sense their parents’ emotions and absorb scary and confusing news. In other words, children are very receptive, even in situations such as a disease outbreak or when someone in their circle of friends or family is sick. It can seem overwhelming; therefore, it is important that you as a parent listen and talk to your child. We have listed some tips on how to handle this conversation and how you can use play to talk to your kids about disease.


Tips on how to approach this conversation

Talking to kids about a disease is not easy. Whether someone they know is sick or you are in a state of pandemic, you as a parent have a role to play. You can support your kids by creating a safe environment, both physical and emotional. Additionally, you can help them understand the situation and the disease so they can learn to cope with it. 

  • Before talking to your kids, you must manage your own anxiety first. As mentioned above, children absorb information and can sense their parents’ stress. So try to not overshare your fears.
  • Find out what your child knows about the disease. Ask them, “Can you tell me what you know about *name of the disease*?” Don’t be afraid to use the name of the disease. When talking to kids about a disease, you need to call it what it is. Moreover, make sure you ask open-ended questions so they know they are completely free to speak.
  • Listen to their answers. They need to feel that it’s safe to talk, so avoid interrupting them. Do not judge what they say and try not to reassure them yet. They simply need to express their feelings at that point. You can also use play to talk, as explained later in this article.
  • Meanwhile, pay attention to the words they use as well as their body language. This will tell you a lot about their emotional state and their potential misunderstandings.
  • Listening will lead you to the next step. Correct their misunderstandings, but before you do, ask them if they’re okay with you sharing more information on the disease.
  • Don’t hide the truth. Be honest with your children when helping them understand and process all this. Withholding information is more stressful for kids. Even if the disease could lead to complications or death, tell your kids the truth. Just make sure you use age-appropriate language.
  • If you don’t have the answer to a question, research it together. However, try not to spend too much time on this, since it could increase their level of anxiety. Books, websites, and other sources on diseases are available to present the information in child-friendly ways.
  • At the same time, you should limit your kids’ exposure to adult conversations, media, and social media about the disease as these channels may not be age-appropriate.
  • Make sure you ask them if they have any other questions and end the conversation with a comforting and reassuring moment.
Play to talk
Play to talk: Use play to talk to kids about disease

Play is necessary in a child’s life. It helps them develop skills, learn, and grow. Additionally, it is a great tool to support them through sickness or pandemics. Feel free to use the power of play to talk to your kids about these situations.

  • Understand that play is your kid’s language. Depending on their age, children indeed express their feelings in various ways, and play is one of them. Therefore, let them include the disease in their play. Just like listening to them, it is important to watch them play to fully understand their emotional state.
  • Explore coloring and drawing. If it makes them more comfortable, allow your kids to do a soothing activity while talking such as coloring. You can also let them draw how they feel. This way, if they don’t manage to use words to express themselves, they can show you how they feel with a picture.
  • Support open-ended pretend play to encourage your children to express their creativity fully. Do not give them any instructions or rules. They might incorporate the disease into play, but don’t worry. This will help them process their emotions and cope with the disease better. In fact, imaginative or pretend play can be a good stress-reliever for children besides being a fun distraction.
  • Make pretend play possible with the appropriate toys and play materials such as building blocks, dolls, toy animals, plushies, cardboard boxes, fabrics, paper, clay, or sand, for instance.
  • Teach your kids hygiene precautions through play to make it fun. There are many videos online that show children how to wash their hands properly. Our partner Right To Play even incorporates songs and choreography into their play-based programs that aim to empower children. The video below, for instance, teaches children how to protect themselves from COVID-19 (English). Through easy lyrics and fun moves, kids can memorize hygiene precautions.

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