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How to Talk with Students About the Coronavirus

Ben Fishman has a PhD in Psychology and is a licensed principal, teacher, and counselor.
By Ben Fishman

The following are some basic tips for educators when talking with students about the coronavirus:
• Find out what they know. Ask students what they've heard, or if their friends are talking about something. Answer questions simply and directly but try not to overexplain (because you could make them more afraid).
• Create a safe space for discussion. Consider saying "These topics are hard to discuss, even for adults. Let's just talk. I want you to feel free to ask anything you want."
• Provide context and perspective. Students need to understand the circumstances around an issue to fully make sense of it; however, keep the conversation developmentally appropriate and simple for them to understand.
• Address their curiosity. Encourage students to ask questions and acknowledge their feelings.
• Be sensitive to emotions and temperament. Check in by sharing how you feel and ask them how they feel.
• Look for positives. There may not be a silver lining to every cloud, but try to be optimistic; for example, "A lot of people acted like heroes and the healthcare workers in China are working really hard to keep everyone safe.”
• Maintain a sense of normalcy, routine, and structure. Sometimes it is difficult to get away from the media or the rumors when a challenging situation occurs. It is helpful for students to have a daily routine and to maintain a daily schedule. Limit the exposure of news and media coverage.
• Plan a follow-up meeting. Check in with your students, see how they are feeling, and stay connected.
Ben Fishman is currently working as an elementary school counselor at Concordia International School Shanghai. Prior to joining Concordia, he was the head of department of counseling services at the International School of Kenya and also worked at The New International School Thailand, Shanghai American School, and Hong Kong International School.

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