With schools closing, big events canceled, and grocery carts full of toilet paper, your child undoubtedly has questions and concerns about what’s going on. No matter the age of your child, the coronavirus (COVID-19) can be a tough issue to talk about. It’s even difficult for adults to understand as we have just as many questions and concerns about the unknown. But with endless news stories, other kids and parents casually chatting about it, and the world hyper-focused on the outbreak, it’s important that our reassuring voices are a little louder. Children can pick up on their parents’ fear, which can trigger their own anxieties. Teens increasingly struggle with their emotions and talk about them even less. Regardless of your child’s age, they should feel safe and not worry. As the trusted adults in their lives, our biggest role is to help them do that. Managing their emotions and stress as the virus significantly impacts our communities is key. Here are some tips for you to use when talking about coronavirus with your children.
Early Childhood and Preschool (Birth– 36 Months)
First and foremost, stay calm. We know it’s easier said than done, but even babies can pick up on how you’re feeling. If you’re acting differently or showing any signs of anxiety or panic, they will too. They will notice that things are different. For example, they aren’t going to nursery school, mommy and daddy are staying home, and they aren’t having play-dates. Do your best to maintain normal routines as schedules are reassuring for babies. Keep your voice calm when you are talking to your partner or others about the virus.
Toddlers Through Grade School
If they ask (and they probably will!), calmly talk about what’s happening. Answer their questions in ways they can understand why mommy and daddy are home from work, why school is closed, and any other questions they may have. Reassure them that experts are working extremely hard to make things better. Kids need to know that adults are working on a solution to make sure everyone is safe. During this conversation, it may help the child feel more comfortable to draw pictures about what is going on and explain their feelings that way.
Some children might not ask many questions and there is no reason to bring it up. But if your child is looking for answers, you don’t have to hesitate to provide them. Just remember not to scare them. Instead, constantly reassure them that plans are in place to combat the outbreak. Explain how those plans including limiting exposure to others, no school or playdates, and washing hands regularly. Having answers can help them feel as though they have some control. They know how to wash their hands, cover their mouth when they cough, and not touch their face. Reminding them of these healthy habits helps them feel as though they are doing their part. But make a conscious effort to wait until they are out of the room before you check the news for updates on the outbreak. They don’t need to hear or see the news for themselves because they may not know how to process what they are hearing.
Even though schools are closed, do your best to keep up a normal routine. This means continuing with schoolwork and having organized academic time at home. Reading, practicing an instrument, and designated exercise and playtime should continue. Bedtime and wake-up times should not change. Since young children don’t have social media and can’t connect with their friends that way, consider allowing them to do video chats with their friends and family members to help fight isolation.
Older children are very much aware of the news and what is going on in the world. They may have seen the news coverage themselves, had a discussion in the classroom about it, and chatted with their friends about it on the school bus. Meet them where they are and ask open questions then really listen to what they say. Unlike younger children, invite your middle schooler to be part of the conversation. This will help you find out how much they know, and you can squash any misconceptions.
Avoid minimizing their concerns and acknowledge their emotions. Let them know that it is normal and natural to feel scared. Put your phone down and make direct eye contact so the child has your full attention. Make sure they understand that they can ask you questions any time and come to you if they feel scared or distressed. Be sensitive to their anxiety levels and keep an eye out on their behavior as the weeks progress. Try to gauge your child’s anxiety by noticing their tone of voice and watching their body language. If they become irritable or easily upset, they may need more reassurance. Troubling issues online and on TV can make your child feel as though they are in imminent danger. As you keep your regular routine, try adding yoga to help them stay calm and balanced.
Remind them that it’s okay to laugh and have fun during this troubling time. Have dance parties, family game nights, and joke around with them. This can make the time away from their friends and social life much easier to handle.
Practically adults, high school students are aware of what is going on. Their fears may be less about the virus itself and more about keeping up with their schoolwork, missing sports, and social activities, and having their schedules disrupted. They may have increased stress about the economy, politics, and the future. Many school trips, senior projects, and even commencement events are indefinitely on hold. Acknowledge their worries and anxieties and remind them that what they are feeling is completely normal. Some teens may try to cope by making harmful stereotypes or sharing inappropriate jokes/memes about the outbreak online. Addressing the facts and directing them to reliable information sources, is a good way to engage them in learning and critical thinking about the pandemic. Most of all, don’t pass on your own anxieties about the situation to your teen. Reach out to your partner and other adults to discuss your fears.
If you or your teen are struggling to handle it all, you should contact a therapist. You can discuss your issues right from home online with a licensed therapist and help get the peace of mind you need.