COVID-19, isolation, quarantine or lockdown: children’s feelings
Children might not fully understand COVID-19, isolation, quarantine or lockdown, but they’ll probably have many and mixed feelings about the experience.
For example, children might feel:
- confused about why you're at home
- sad or frustrated that they can’t see their friends, carers, teachers and extended family
- frustrated or annoyed that they can’t do their usual activities
- worried that someone they love will get sick
- upset by the stress or distress that you might be feeling
- overwhelmed by constant coverage of COVID-19 in the media.
Children will cope better if they have accurate, age-appropriate information about COVID-19 and isolation, quarantine or lockdown. They also need plenty of opportunities to ask questions and talk about feelings.
The steps below can help you talk through this situation with your preschooler or school-age child.
Depending on where you live in Australia, you might hear the terms ‘isolation’ and/or ‘quarantine’. Both refer to periods of staying away from other people if you’ve tested positive to COVID-19 or are a close contact. A ‘lockdown’ is when everyone in the community limits their activities. These are all ways of slowing the spread of COVID-19 and protecting communities.
1. Make time to talk about COVID-19, isolation, quarantine or lockdown
Find the right time to talk with your child. This might be around the dinner table, at bath time, or at bedtime. When your child is ready to talk, try to give your child your full attention.
If you’re working from home, you might find that your child wants or needs to talk while you’re working. You won’t always be able to stop, and that’s OK. It’s fine to let your child know that you can’t listen right now. For example, ‘I’m talking to my workmates on Zoom – see? Can we talk after you’ve finished your puzzle?’ Just make sure to follow through later.
2. Use a calm and reassuring tone
If you use a calm, reassuring tone when you talk with your child about this situation, it can help your child feel safe and secure.
You might be feeling stressed or upset about the situation – that’s natural. If you can, try to take a few deep breaths before you talk. This can help you feel calmer.
3. Find out what your child knows about isolation, quarantine or lockdown
It’s a good idea to start by asking your child what they know about the situation and whether they have any questions. For example:
- ‘Millie can’t come out of her house at the moment. That’s because her family is isolating. Do you understand what isolation is?’
- ‘You won’t be going to school for a while, but some of your friends are still going. Do you understand why?’
- ‘We can’t go to swimming lessons until our symptoms have gone. Do you know why?’
- ‘We’re all staying home in lockdown now. What do you think lockdown means?’
4. Explain isolation, quarantine or lockdown in a way your child understands
This is about sticking to the facts, focusing on the positives, reassuring your child that this situation won’t last forever, and explaining what your family can do to help. For example:
- ‘COVID-19 is a virus that makes people sick, a bit like when you get a nasty cold. It gets in people’s spit, snot and breath. If you have it, it spreads easily when you sneeze, cough or breathe too close to other people.’
- ‘Isolation means staying away from other people for a while. It helps to keep other people safe.’
- ‘The good thing about lockdown is the chance for us to spend more time together when we’re not doing our paid work or schoolwork. When we finish our work, we can go for a bike ride or a long walk together.’
- ‘We don’t know how long the lockdown will last. But it won’t be forever – we promise!’
COVID-19 isolation, quarantine, lockdown or school closures might mean your child has periods of learning from home. To help your child get the most of this situation, try to use routines, tune in to your child’s feelings and stay in touch with the school.
5. Tune into your child’s feelings about isolation, quarantine or lockdown
Some children might be OK with staying at home all the time. But some might be frightened, worried or upset.
Ask your child how they’re feeling and listen to what your child says. Let your child know that their feelings are OK. You can also ask your child what they need to feel better. It might reassure your child if you share your own feelings and let your child know what you’re doing to cope.
- ‘I know you don’t like doing worksheets without your teacher. But it feels good to finish things. What if you finish your numbers sheet, and then we do a silly dance together?’
- ‘I know you’re disappointed because you can’t go to basketball right now. It’s OK to be disappointed, but we might both feel better if we do some exercise. How about we go into the backyard and practise dribbling together?’
- ‘I know you’re sad that you can’t visit Granny at the moment. I am too. I feel happy when I see her face, so why don’t we video chat with her?’
- ‘It can be frustrating having everyone in the house together all the time. It’s natural to feel a bit cross. It’s important to use calm words to say how we feel, rather than shouting.’
And remember – plenty of cuddles can help you all feel better.
It’s important to monitor how much media coverage about COVID-19 you and your child are seeing. It’s not helpful for anyone to hear distressing news over and over again. If you have the facts you need, it’s often best to switch off or switch to something else.
Children with disability, chronic conditions or other additional needs
Children with disability are more likely than their peers to experience anxiety. For example, your child might be anxious about getting COVID-19 or getting sicker because of it. They might also be upset by the way isolation, quarantine or lockdown has changed things like your family routines, their medical or therapy appointments, and their friendships and schooling.
Talking can help children with additional needs in isolation or lockdown, just as it can help children without additional needs. In particular, you can support your child with additional needs by acknowledging their worries or anxieties and listening actively when your child wants to talk. It’s also important to give your child developmentally appropriate information about how COVID-19 and isolation or lockdown might affect them and also your family. Without accurate information, children often imagine the worst.
It’s a good idea to seek advice from your GP or specialist about whether your child has a higher risk of getting COVID-19 and what extra precautions you and your child might need to take.
Australian, state and territory health department websites have the latest and most reliable information and advice about COVID-19 isolation, quarantine, lockdown and vaccination bookings. You can also call the Coronavirus Helpline on 1800 020 080 or Healthdirect on 1800 022 222. Or download the Australian Government’s Coronavirus Australia app.