Schools are getting ready to open across the Northern Hemisphere. H1N1 is spreading rapidly in the Southern Hemisphere. With news coverage about flu moving across the world and in some places people wearing masks on the streets, it is likely that children will hear something about it at school or on television. Here are some tips to help you minimize your child’s fears while providing tips that can help him or her stay healthy.
Flu Worries and Your Child’s Well-Being
Children are happiest when they can continue in the routines that make them feel comfortable and safe. Therefore, keeping your child inside unnecessarily and restricting social interactions with peers when flu rumors begin to circulate may be stressful for your child. By staying informed and teaching sensible precautions, you can keep life as normal as possible and help your child feel more secure.
What should you tell your child?
First of all, find out what they already know. Ask your child to tell you what he or she already knows about the topic. Having your child tell you what she or he has heard, instead of you telling them about it, lets you know what misconceptions or misunderstandings you may need to address.
Now you can explain the facts. Your child may have a lot of questions about H1N1 (swine flu). Clearing up your child’s confusion and providing the facts may make him or her less worried.
- Customize the information to your child’s developmental level by using words you know he or she will understand. (See simple definitions at the bottom of this post)
- For example, you may wish to explain that H1N1 (swine flu) is a sickness that pigs can get and these germs that cause pigs to become ill can change over time to become a sickness that people can get and pass to each other.
- Be sure to explain that doctors and the government are working to protect everyone, and will be ready to treat children and families if the flu continues to spread quickly.
Hygiene is the key to protecting your child. Having a discussion about flu is a great opportunity to reinforce good hygiene practices, as they will not only help protect a child during a flu pandemic, but will also keep him or her healthier in general.
- It’s all about the hands! Teach your child to wash hands frequently. The correct way to wash hands is to rub them vigorously together for 20 seconds using soap and water. Explain that hands pick up invisible little germs that can make people sick. The germs get inside when they touch their eyes, nose, or mouth. Washing with soap and water gets rid of the germs before they can make them sick. Another option is to use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Sanitizers with at least 70% isopropyl alcohol or 60% ethyl alcohol are effective.
- Teach your children to cover coughs and sneezes by coughing into their elbow or arm.
- Teach your children to tell you if they are not feeling well and to be careful not to get too close to others if he or she feels sick, or if the other person feels sick.
- Teach your child to practice good general health habits that help them stay healthy, like eating a balanced diet, exercising, and getting enough rest.
You should talk about the flu vaccine. If your child gets a yearly flu vaccine, he or she may wonder why everyone can’t simply be vaccinated to keep from getting swine flu.
- If your child asks, explain that scientists have just started to work on developing a vaccine, but it can take several months to create it and make sure it works against this flu.
People are working on this problem and they may need your help at times. It is important that you help your child understand the directions being given by the schools, health authorities, and government to help prevent further spread of the flu and why they are important. Understanding that everyone, including children, can play a role in helping to prevent further spread of the flu can assist your child in feeling like he or she is contributing and helping the community.
If your child becomes ill. If your child is not feeling well and seems to have symptoms of the flu (fever, cough, congestion, achy body, diarrhea, vomiting are some of the common symptoms), call your pediatrician. Follow your pediatrician’s recommendations, including guidance about when to stay home from school.
Take time NOW to make a family plan. This fall flu season, anticipate that your child’s routines may be interrupted. You may even find that authorities advise you to stay in your home to prevent the spread of the illness. Think about what you will need in the event that this occurs and make a plan for your family so that you are prepared.
- Stock up on food, water, and medications.
- Have games, activities, and ways to communicate with friends (like over email) ready for your children to make the time spent confined at home less stressful.
- Providing developmentally appropriate art, play, and other expressive activities can assist your child to express how they feel and improve your communication with them while also providing entertainment or distraction while home.
- Stay informed of recent developments.
- Listen to radio and television, and read media stories about the pandemic and follow the instructions of your local health authorities.
Sesame Street Helps Out – Elmo Teaches Handwashing
In looking for quick child friendly training aids, we discovered that Sesame Street has a great short video for teaching kids to wash their hands and also how to cough safely. Check it our on our website:
Dirty Bertie Comic Books – A fun way to learn
Another great tool we discovered was a cute coloring book for kids called Dirty Bertie! The National Health Service in the UK wrote it. It also has a fun song to sing and printed lyrics. You can download the comic book, the mp3 song and the lyrics at our website (no coloring or singing skills required!).
Common flu terms defined for Families
- A pandemic is a global disease outbreak. The disease spreads easily from person to person and can sweep across the country and around the world in very short time.
- Human flu that causes a global outbreak of serious illness. This is different from the common flu because there is little natural immunity to this strain of the flu. This disease can spread easily from person to person.
Seasonal (or common) flu
- A respiratory illness that can be transmitted person to person. Most people have some immunity, and a vaccine is available.
H1N1 Influenza (swine flu)
- A respiratory disease of pigs caused by type A influenza viruses that cause regular outbreaks in pigs. People do not normally get swine flu, but human infections can and do happen. There is no human immunity and currently no vaccine is available, although scientists are working to develop one.
Take time now to develop a family plan and educate your children’s about H1N1. Begin a plan of action today!