WASHINGTON — More than 3,400 people have died from the Ebola virus since the outbreak began in West Africa this past December. With new cases diagnosed in the United States and Spain, many parents are on edge when it comes to how to calm their kids’ fears about the epidemic.
Leslie Morgan Steiner, a parenting expert and blogger for Modernmom.com, says the best thing parents can do right now is to answer their kids’ questions.
“There’s a lot of misinformation out there, and we want to be a reliable source for them so they get accurate information, they’re not horrified, disgusted, terrified, scarred for life,” says Steiner. Just like with other sensitive topics, she says, it’s important to set yourself as the authority on the matter, should kids have questions or other fears down the line.
How parents go about speaking to their kids about Ebola depends on age, Steiner says. With young kids, the best thing to do is to stick to the facts. Let them know that you will keep them safe and that the virus is not as contagious as others out there, such as the flu.
“And I think one of the things to explain is that the virus is not transmitted through the air; you can’t get it from somebody breathing on you or sneezing near you. You actually have to touch bodily fluid,” Steiner says.
For older children who may have taken health or science classes, talk about the rate of infection and the unlikelihood of catching the disease. And with older or younger kids, Steiner emphasizes the importance of sticking to the facts.
“The way I look at it from a parent’s view is that infecting your kids with hysteria about a disease is riskier and has long-term consequences that far outweigh the risks of actually getting this disease,” she says.
Steiner, who grew up in D.C., says that while Ebola is a scary and deadly disease, panicking about its spread can have implications much greater than the disease itself; she likens the Ebola panic to that seen during the AIDS epidemic in the