Tips for parents to explain the seriousness of Ebola to their children, yet keep calm about the most headline making and panic striking disease, have been given by scientists.
The constant barrage of information and so much unknown could be especially difficult for children, and Theodote Pontikes, MD, pediatric psychiatrist at Loyola University Health System, said that parents and caregivers needed to reassure children that they are safe while keeping their composure, as the children's questions were a great opportunity to teach lessons about how to practice health safety and prevention during their daily routines.
She also said that children of all ages needed to know that medical and public health experts, as well as government officials, are working to understand the virus, develop treatments and put in place measures to protect people from it spreading.
To ensure both younger and older children understood and felt safe asking questions, Pontikes suggested that parents may need to have separate conversations with their kids, possibly one-on-one.
To help children comprehend what was happening in regards to Ebola she suggests:
Use visual images such as maps to show the origin of the virus and how few people had contracted the disease.
Explain how the resources such as clean water, healthy food and advanced medical care would help stop the virus from spreading.
Talk about how the disease was spreading and give them some tangible things they could do to protect themselves like correctly washing their hands.
Let them know the virus was transmitted through direct contact with bodily fluids from someone who was already sick with Ebola and there were very few people with the disease. Still, it's always important not to touch another person's spit, sweat, poop or pee. Don't share food, eating utensils or sharp objects such as nail files or clippers.
Limit children's exposure to the media.
As parents respond to children's questions, it's important to monitor their children's and their own emotional responses. They could teach kids coping skills to reduce anxiety such as deep breathing and meditation or prayer, Pontikes added.
If children exhibit the following signs, she suggests seeking guidance from a pediatrician or psychiatrist:
Disruption to the child's eating or sleeping routine
Exhibiting signs of significant stress, such as depressed or irritable mood
Refusal to go to school or take part in other activities
As the cold and flu season was here, it could increase children's anxiety. It was important for them to know not everyone who contracted a virus would die and although there aren't vaccines for Ebola yet, there are vaccines that could keep people safe from other more common viruses like the flu, said Pontikes.