Discussing Coronavirus with your Child
At this point your child has heard about Coronavirus and is curious. What do we tell him or her? How much should we tell them? Most experts agree that discussing the Covid-19 virus and why precautions must be taken is important, and that telling your children nothing can be harmful. Without context, children who are witnessing the heightened concern and worry, the increased stockpiling of food, the inability to go to soccer games, dance classes, or school may become anxious, aggressive, or fearful. This can have long term implications. So how do we approach such a heavy topic, especially when the news about Coronavirus keeps changing on a daily basis? Here are a few ways, depending on the age of your child, to approach it.
The First Question to Ask
For older children, it is appropriate to ask your child if they’ve heard people talking about the coronavirus. Specifically, what have they heard? This gives you an idea of what your what they may know, and it gives you a starting point for the discussion. It also lets you know if they’ve heard the wrong information (and there is plenty of it out there.) It’s important not to force the conversation. If your child wants to spend time talking about it, fine. Otherwise, if they do not seem interested, or don’t ask many questions, that’s fine too. Some children like to think about the situation, and then may return later to discuss it with you or to ask follow up questions.
What Your Child Needs to Know MOST
To be a child is to be at the mercy of the adult world most of the time. Seeing a caregiver or adult worried or fearful makes a child afraid for their own safety. In your discussions, what your child needs to know most is that you are doing everything possible to keep everyone safe. If you are fearful and worried, save your meltdowns for behind closed doors and out of earshot of your child. When you discuss Covid-19 with them, speak calmly and honestly. When my children ask a question that I do not know the answer to, I tell them so. I take the moment as a teachable opportunity and we research the question together. A great place to get the latest up to date information is directly from the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
Empower Your Children
Your child wants to be part of the process, especially helping to keep the family safe. Give them an age-appropriate task, including washing hands. Older children should be encouraged to remain home as much as possible, even if your area has not enacted a shelter in place order. Impress on your older children and teens that this is a very serious illness and any of the heartless social media challenges that are currently cropping up are not only dangerous but could potentially land them in trouble with law enforcement.
When your children watch the news about the Coronavirus make sure you are there to place the stories in context for them. Listening to the death count reports are terrifying for all of us but especially so for very young children, so carefully consider your decision to allow them to watch these reports. Conversely, your older children may be getting conflicting, confusing, or outright wrong information from a variety of sources. Make sure that you check in with them often to clear up any misinformation they may have read or watched. Encourage your children to use video conferencing, SKYPE or Zoom, to check in with older relatives they may worry about. Explain that your family pet cannot catch it or transmit it.
Explain What is Being Done
Children need to know that their leaders, both in their local, state, and federal government, are working on ending the crisis. While children may not need to know all the intricate details, it is important to conclude most discussions about the coronavirus on a positive note. Share the fact that the country’s best scientists and doctors are working on a cure and that with everyone’s cooperation, it can be over shortly. While being confined may be inconvenient, it also offers you additional contact with your children, which is never a bad thing. Embrace some of the changes, speak clearly and plainly with your children, and keep the communication between you available. They may astonish you with their own insight and thoughts about the current situation. Mine certainly have, and they continue to do so.
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