Swine Flu and Children

With the recent outbreak of the H1N1 Flu Virus, also known as the “Swine Flu,” I thought it may be helpful for parents to understand how to best talk to your children about this Swine Flu. Here are some brief tips:

1) Ask questions and correct any misconceptions (e.g. “I heard that 5 of my classmates got the Swine Flu by eating pork chops in the school cafeteria.”) This alone can reduce anxiety.
2) When presenting clarifying information, stick to the facts. Use real numbers, such as “we live in a town that has 25,000 people and no one has swine flu.” Speak to your child on his or her developmental level. For adolescents, you can talk about percentages and the odds of contracting the virus. Inform your child, that the smartest people in the world are working on helping the people who are sick and also working on ways to protect people that are not sick.
3) Avoid making jokes or being sarcastic about the H1N1 virus. You want communicate that there is an extremely low chance of contracting the virus; however, you do not want minimize the seriousness of the virus nor do you want to make light of the fact that there are people across the world becoming very ill and dying due to this virus. Model empathy.
4) Reinforce good hygiene. Teach good hand washing skills. For younger children, you can teach them the sing the alphabet song while they wash their hands to ensure they are washing for the appropriate amount of time. Other good hygiene habits involve not putting your hands or fingers in your mouth, coughing/sneezing into your arm rather than your hand, throwing away dirty tissues and napkins, and respecting other children’s personal space.
5) Teach positive coping skills to reduce anxiety. Coping skills such as exercising, relaxation techniques, deep breathing, and distraction can help a child manage his or anxiety and also strengthen one’s ability to cope with future stressors.

For more information on the H1N1 Flu Virus, you can visit www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/qa.htm

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