Talking about COVID-19 with Kids.
As the world is reacting and coming together in response to the recent changes to our everyday lives, I have been contacted a few times to share thoughts on how to best talk with our kids about what is happening. So here are a few tips as you enter into tough conversations about the coronavirus.
What you should know.
- Do NOT talk about people dying from coronavirus with your kids. Let me say that again. Do NOT tell them people are dying. Stick with me here. I’m not saying we lie to them. But I am saying there are a few good reasons to just keep this from them if possible.
- Their anxiety shoots through the roof if you tell them there is a risk of death. And although the risk is present for elderly and those with a compromised immune system – the risk is actually VERY low for children. In fact, when I was researching, I found numerous credible sites that said there have been less than 1% of the deaths be children.
- Stay focused on messages of safety and security. They really are at a very low risk of getting fatally sick. Keep in mind… Unless you constantly remind them of the risks of riding in a car, breaking their leg at the playground, getting struck by lightning… just keep the coronavirus death toll an adult-only topic as well. 🙂 (PS – DO not talk to them about the risks of getting into a car accident!)
- IF they ask, you can tell them the facts. PLEASE review CDC’s website for the FACTS about people dying. For example, if they say, “Could you die from it?” – You could say, “There have been some people who have passed away from this. BUT those people have been mostly individuals who are very old. Most people who are healthy and young who get this sickness just have to take several days of rest and keep washing their hands to get well again.” Remember to end your statements with messages of safety and security.
- When they hear people are dying, their anxiety goes up – which causes them to KEEP asking more and more questions about it. Which then… causes US, as parents, to feel more anxious and irritated and fearful. Again, I am not saying we lie to them, but I am saying we don’t have to tell our kids everything. Particularly kids under the age of 8 or 9 who honestly may not even have the capacity to understand it all anyway.
- Limit their viewing of news outlets or other forms of media that describe the ongoing situation. Instead, YOU be a good consumer of the information. Know the facts. Investigate the facts. Then share if the time/situation arises and seems appropriate. If kids watch the news and hear one thing that scares them – they are likely to take it out of context or misunderstand the full meaning.
- Kids operate better when there is structure. This comes through routines and clear expectations. The RAPID changes they have been experiencing with school closures, work closures, etc. MAY be uprooting their sense of security. Basically, when the routine is off, their sense of safety is off.
- So what will this look like in your child? It may look like irritability, anger, sadness, crying, problems sleeping, restlessness, moodiness, neediness, fear, anxiety, depression, changes in appetite and/or bids for constant reassurance. If your child is experiencing these things – and it seems out of the ordinary for them, having a conversation with them may help (see below for tips!).
- Since we know they need structure, it is our job to try to find a new normal as quickly as possible. With most school districts around us moving to e-learning, it would be good for you to try to get a new “e-learning routine” going. Routines create consistency which decreases anxiety in our kids. Get creative by web-searching “printable routines for kids” to create a new VISUAL schedule for them (and you!). Share the importance of staying on track with them as you show them their new routine.
- The CDC has a pretty good list of suggestions for things to keep in mind about anxiety with kids during disasters/emergencies. Here are a few scripts you could use to get the conversations started, keep it going, and manage their questions.
- “Hey Mason, what have you heard about the coronavirus?” – Or any question that is an open-ended question about what they currently know. This will give you a place to start, and a way to clarify any misinformation. And trust me… there is LOTS of misinformation out there.
- “Hey. I know there are a lot of changes happening. How are you feeling about everything that has changed?” – Again, this is an open-ended question to help them see that we know things are changing and we are checking in with them about it. This may also be a good time to share your feelings. “You know something…I have been feeling a little uneasy about everything, too. I am not sure how things will go these next few weeks and I tend to get a little nervous when things seem unknown or out of my control. Have you felt any of that?”
- If your child is younger, “Hey Amelia. Next week, you get to stay home to do school at home with us! 🙂 There has been some sickness going around and teachers/staff wanted to make sure everyone stays healthy. So we are going to stay home and make it like an adventure.”
- If they ask about what it is, is it dangerous, should we be afraid, etc. If you do nothing else… SHARE MESSAGES OF SAFETY AND SECURITY. “You are safe here as long as we keep washing our hands, getting good sleep, and eating healthy.” “Your friends are safe.” “Grandma and grandpa are safe. They are just hanging out at home.”
- Use technology – like FaceTime or WhatsApp to keep in contact with people. We love using FaceTime or WhatsApp to connect with family and friends who live both near and far. Set a play date and let the kids walk around with your phone while they “play” and show off their creations.
We have already seen how people can come together to make this outcome something that is good for all of us. Allow your kids to just be kids through this. Be excited they have some time home from school. Be creative about using the upcoming staycation (quarantine) for something fun or adventurous. The short story, even in the midst of outer chaos, we can be the calm amidst the storm for them.