By Vanessa Bryant

Like so many mums across the country, I’ve been doing my best to manage working from home while raising a young family. This year has been a juggling act like no other because I’ve spent the vast majority of the year helping to find solutions for COVID-19.

I’m an immunologist at WEHI (the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research) in Melbourne. Typically, my work focuses on understanding rare and complex immune diseases and trying to find new treatments and cures for these debilitating conditions. However, like many people at WEHI and around the world, I have joined the global effort to understand, treat and ultimately beat COVID-19.

“Every child is different, with their own questions, concerns and levels of understanding. But they all have some awareness about how this pandemic has impacted our lives.”

My team and I recently launched a clinical study called COVID PROFILE, testing the blood of people who have contracted and recovered from COVID-19. The study will help us to understand how people develop immunity to the virus, how long that protection lasts, and what happens when immunity starts to wane.

This research is vital because there is so much we don’t know about this novel disease. We all want to return to normal life, and to develop the vaccines and treatments that will allow that to happen, we must understand the immune response that will make those therapies work. The first results from our clinical study are just starting to come through now, which is really exciting. My team and I are working hard to make our own contribution to the community through our research.

With my job, I’m constantly asking questions about COVID-19 but I’m also having to explain to my kids what it means.

I have a nine-year-old son, Felix, and a six-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Vivien. I’ve always been open to talking with my kids about how our bodies work and what I do for a living. They have a basic understanding of why vaccines are so important; how they make us strong by helping our immune system train and practice for a real infection.

Every child is different, with their own questions, concerns and levels of understanding. But they all have some awareness about how this pandemic has impacted our lives.

As a mum who works in the medical field, I have always strived to take the time to answer my kids’ questions as thoroughly as I can. While it might be easier to tell them not to worry, it’s so important to encourage questions, listen carefully, take their worries seriously and arm them with information that’s appropriate for their age.

“With my job, I’m constantly asking questions about COVID-19 but I’m also having to explain to my kids what it means.”

Kids need a lot of reassurance – and there’s things you can discuss that will help put their minds at ease. For example, kids don’t tend to catch COVID-19, and if they do, it’s rare for them to get very sick. And while it’s tough not to see our friends or go out much, it won’t last forever – it’s just for now. Doctors and scientists around the world are working together and sharing their discoveries to fight COVID-19 – and we will get there. In the meantime, there’s lots we can do to help slow down the spread – wear a mask, wash our hands regularly, get tested if we don’t feel well and stay at home if we have a cough or a sniffle.

It’s important to acknowledge that some people have become very sick and have died from the virus – and that’s incredibly sad. And it’s helpful to talk openly and honestly about just how hard it’s been to be apart from loved ones for so long. But it’s also important to talk about the good news too and celebrate restrictions being lifted and double doughnut days (no new cases, no deaths) because small wins offer children – and adults – comfort and hope, and right now that’s what everyone needs.

My advice on talking to your kids about COVID-19 is to take a breath, take it slow and answer as best you can. If your kids are like mine, they’ll let you know when they’ve had enough. And if you don’t know all the answers, that’s alright too. Sometimes nobody has the answer just yet, and you might not have the exact words to explain something – I’ll often come back to a question later, once I’ve had time to think it over.

While there’s still a lot we don’t know, every day we’re finding out new things about COVID-19 and how to potentially stop the spread. Sharing this information with our children in a way they can digest goes a long way towards alleviating some of the worries and anxieties they may be experiencing.