Be scientific. That’s the pithy strategy for speaking with your children about the coronavirus pandemic, according to Lyn Worsley, director and senior clinical psychologist at The Resilience Centre in Sydney.
“Give them the facts about how germs are spread. Teach them about hygiene. Teach them about the science – how interesting it is,” advises Worsley, about how to speak “scientifically” to children about what the world is dealing with.
“If it is really interesting, then it’s not scary.” – Lyn Worsley
“If it is really interesting, then it’s not scary. Even with a five-year-old, start some science lessons.
“We don’t want to start having a whole tribe of kids with obsessive compulsive disorder but, at the moment, OCD is probably not such a bad thing. But not [encouraging them to be] obsessive; what we need to have is children who are aware and knowledgeable about what is helpful and what happens with viruses.”
Worsley is not a scientist, she points out. But she is a social scientist, who developed with her team the Resilience Doughnut – a model for children, adolescents and adults to use to help their strengthen mental health.
With Australia and the rest of the world plummeting into economic and social crises, also looming is emotional and psychological devastation across entire populations. Worsley wants to help people to prepare for an inevitable rise in mental health problems and provide ways to prevent – or cope with – personal challenges born out of the pandemic’s impact.
Speaking with Eternity after Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced Australian schools would not be closing, Worsley supports keeping schools open as long as health data indicates COVID-19 is not dangerously spreading through younger people.
“Psychologically, children are mentally healthier if they are at school,” states Worsley, who maintains that adults and children need stabilising elements in their lives. These elements include family, friends, education, work and skills. When any or all of these are removed or disconnected from each other, individuals can experience mental health challenges, she says.
“[Another] advantage of having the schools together is that children can be educated around the virus. So we can have one place for that.” Keen for children to not be bombarded by “fake news” and unhelpful opinions, Worsley likes that schools could be a primary place for teaching them “how to look for the right things.”
She cautions parents and caregivers against enveloping children with the many, varied and sometimes ill-informed opinions that are available via media channels. “That can [just] be fear-mongering. Steer them away from anything that is not factual.”
“If I think that when I die, that’s it, I’m going to be panicking.” – Lyn Worsley
Worsley also relies heavily on her Christian faith to navigate the great fear and concern erupting around the planet right now. As she sees crowds of people “panicking”, her eternal perspective enables her to respond differently and offer care to those around her.
“I don’t want to die, but I don’t fear death itself … I believe we live our life according to how we think we die,” shares Worsley.
“If I think that when I die, I’m going to have another life and eternity with God, then the way I live reflects that. If I think that when I die, that’s it, I’m going to be panicking.
“With a Christian faith, I see that every trial we go through is an opportunity to serve … and to share our faith. But I’m not seeing it as an evangelical opportunity; I’m seeing it as an opportunity to love and care and do the opposite to what the crowd is doing.
“As Christians, we don’t need to panic. We need to care because, ultimately, that caring will enable people to wonder why.”