Specialists offer advice on talking to your children about flu

Rebecca White, Merrill, Thomas A., Sasser, Diane

News Release Distributed 05/18/09

With what some are calling “swine flu” being a major topic of conversation in many circles and in the news, it’s a good idea to reassure your children you’re going to keep them as safe as possible.

Officially known as H1N1, this flu outbreak has captured attention across the country and could result in children being fearful about it, LSU AgCenter family life and child development specialists say.

“With some schools closing and lots of talk about the flu, panic could ensue amid rumors,” said LSU AgCenter family life specialist Dr. Diane Sasser. “Even more, if teachers and parents appear panicked, that could lead children to believe the situation is worse than it is.”

Sasser and LSU AgCenter child development specialist Dr. Becky White say helping children keep everything in perspective is important in any sort of emergency situation.

“In instances like these, we adults forget that children can pick up on our fears and hear conversations among us that are filled with our own speculations,” White said. “A child can mix up real fear and make-believe fear. This is normal, but he or she will need your help to separate the facts from fiction.”

Talking to your child about a flu outbreak or any hazard is helpful in preventing fear and in reducing the risk of infecting others, the experts advise. They provided these tips on actions you can take to help your children:

–Be sure to get the facts from reputable sources, preferably reliable research rather than rumors and guesswork.

–Explain what flu is and dispel the myths that your child could catch this particular strain of flu from being around pigs or eating pork.

–Talk to your children about flu and what your family can do to try to stay healthy.

–Assure your children that you will work together to prevent family members from catching flu. Involve your children in the strategies to keep everyone safe – basing the level of involvement on what is appropriate for each child’s age.

–Help your child talk about his or her fears regarding the flu outbreak.

–Let your children know it is okay to be afraid.

–Minimize your children’s exposure to television reports about flu.

–Talk, explain and listen to your children, over and over as necessary.

–Keep working to make things better, such as showing your children how to wash their hands thoroughly, which can help to protect them from catching flu or other diseases.

–Show your children how to cover their mouths and noses with a tissue when they cough or sneeze. Also teach them what to do if there is not a tissue immediately available – how to trap the sneeze or cough with the inside of the elbow or with cupped hands covering nose and mouth. Encourage them to throw away a tissue after using it once and to wash hands after sneezing into them. (Trapping a sneeze or cough inside the elbow avoids the danger of passing germs along through hand-to-hand contact when you are not able to wash hands immediately.)

–Remind your children to cover their mouths and noses every time they cough or sneeze.

–Remind your children to wash their hands before meals, after going to the bathroom and when they come in from playing outside.

–Praise your children when they wash their hands or cover their mouths after coughing or sneezing.

–Don’t yell at or spank your children if they forget these practices; gently remind them.

–Tell your children a story about something good that happened each day.

For more information on health and nutrition, family life, child development, personal safety and a wealth of other topics, visit www.lsuagcenter.com.


Diane Sasser
Becky White

Tom Merrill

5/18/2009 8:45:37 PM
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