The Ebola virus is scary, plain and simple. It's scary enough that it's not something most parents would choose to discuss with children--but in our media-filled, instantly-connected world, keeping scary breaking news from children isn't so easy.
Even if your children haven't heard about it yet, there's a reasonable chance they will--so it's not a bad idea to have them hear about it from you first. That way, you can control the message--or at least influence it.
Here are four things that you can and should say to children about the Ebola outbreak:
1. There have been no outbreaks of Ebola in the United States--and there is no significant risk of catching it here. The only people with Ebola who have been in the US have been flown (carefully) from Africa to be cared for (carefully) here. This may not stay true. In our global culture, with people traveling every day, anything can happen. But for now, it's true--and that's reassuring. You can also reassure children that:
2. Many precautions are being taken to stop the spread of Ebola. There is much that is being done to stop the spread in the countries where there are outbreaks, but there are also precautions being taken to stop the spread into other countries. Here in the United States, hospitals are making plans for what they would do should someone with Ebola come to them, especially for what they would do to isolate the person and stop the virus from spreading.
3. Doctors and scientists and others are working around the clock to find new and better ways to treat and prevent Ebola. There are promising new treatments and a vaccine that is being tested. The bottom line for children: There are lots of incredibly smart and determined people working all the time to find ways to fight this disease and so many others.
4. There are simple ways that people can help prevent not just Ebola but so many viruses that we do have here in the US. Ebola, like many viruses and other germs, is spread by contact with the "bodily fluids" (blood, poop, etc.) of a sick person. A simple way to help prevent these illnesses and others: wash your hands. This is a great opportunity, especially as we enter flu season, to talk with children about hand-washing, not sharing cups or utensils with others, and covering coughs and sneezes.
That's what you can do: you can use the Ebola virus as a teaching opportunity. There is so much our children can learn from it: Not just about hand-washing, but also about how misunderstanding and misinformation can be devastating, about how all of us need to help other countries and other people--and about the heroism of the health care workers who are caring for the sick.
Those are far better messages than the scary ones in the media. Give it a try.