In our last post, we shared ways to manage your own stress and be emotionally prepared to have discussions about the virus with your children. Today, we are giving you 10 points to keep in mind as you have these conversations.
1. Make sure the content of what you are sharing with your child is developmentally appropriate. Also, think about the temperament of your child. Are they highly anxious? Are they very sensitive? Are they more matter of fact? Also, consider your own family’s situation. Are you as parents still working every day? Does your job cause you to be at greater risk? Have you lost your job? Is your child a high school senior struggling with the loss of Senior Prom or a graduation ceremony? Every family’s situation will be different so use the following information accordingly.
2. The younger your children are the less needs to be shared. If children ask questions, answer them matter-of-factly and with no added information. If they want more information they will ask for more. Sometimes we assume children want to know more than they do. Less is better.
3. Children are hearing information. Even at ages 5 or 6 they’ve probably heard the term “virus” or “COVID-19”. So, talk to them to find out what they have already heard. You’ll want to clear up any misinformation. When children don’t get the facts or when what they have heard doesn’t make sense to them, they’ll likely fill in the blanks with their own answers. Often their answers are more frightening to them than the real ones. Stick to the facts and keep it simple.
4. Use this time to teach children how to stay safe regarding infection and germs. This is good information even when there’s not a pandemic. Practice these skills at home: after going to the bathroom or before eating wash your hands with soap and water while singing Happy Birthday or the ABC’s and always cough or sneeze into your elbow or a tissue (throw away the tissue and wash your hands). Explain why some people are wearing masks so seeing people in masks isn’t frightening to them. Teaching children about germs and how they spread is important. Also, teaching them what they can do to deter the spread of germs can give them a sense of control.
5. As mentioned in our previous post, create routine. Children (and adults) feel safe and are comforted by routine. Knowing what is coming next relieves anxiety. This is also an excellent time to start new traditions or bolster old ones: at the dinner table challenge family members to share one thing they’re thankful for or one thing they’ve learned during these ‘stay at home’ days. Play board games or learn a new skill together. Engage children in new projects. Make good memories that are full of fun and laughter. Keep a journal recording “what life was like during the pandemic.” One day, our children and grandchildren will want to know.
6. Use technology to allow children to stay in contact with loved ones and friends. For example, grandparents can read bedtime stories to them on Facetime or friends can chat thanks to Zoom (or one of the many other platforms that are available).
7. Remember that children’s behaviors are how they communicate to you. Children often can’t articulate their concerns so they show you with their behavior. If your child’s behavior changes in any way or he’s irritable or grumpy, that’s your cue to lean in closer and see what’s going on.
8. Don’t underestimate the power of play! Play is the universal language of children, young and old! Just as adults use words to express their thoughts, children use toys, games, and their imaginations. Children use play to problem solve and make sense of their world. Carve out plenty of time for free play.
9. When talking to your teenagers it’s important to be honest but also reassuring. Chances are they have already heard what you have heard and may know most of what you know. Listen to their concerns and validate their feelings. Even though they may seem old enough to understand, refrain from talking about all the frightening aspects of this pandemic in front of them. Model for them a strong sense of calm and confidence. They will follow your lead.
10. Most importantly, be available and be present. Let them know that they can ask you anything and they can talk to you anytime they want. Assure them that you are in charge of their welfare and you can take care of them. If you don’t know the answer to a question (because there’s still a lot we don’t know), then just say: “I don’t know”. But you can follow it up with: “But there are lots of really smart helpers out there that are working on this problem and every day they are giving us more answers. Humans are really good at figuring things out.”
Try some of these suggestions and leave us a comment letting us know how they worked!
If you find yourself struggling and need some extra support, we are here to help. Please use the form on this page to contact us and we will be in touch ASAP.
- CDC’s COVID-19 website
- Talking to Children about COVID-19pdf iconexternal icon, developed by the National Association of School Nurses and the National Association of School Psychologists.
- Check out these PBS KIDS videos, games and activities all about hand washing and staying healthy:
- Curious George:
- Super Why!:
- Sesame Street:
- Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood: