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How to Talk to Kids About Coronavirus

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mother talking to child

Mother talking to child about coronavirus

As parents, we do everything within our power to keep our kids safe. We teach them about dangers as soon as they can comprehend the word, “no.” We try to shield them from online predators and warn them what could happen if they disobey. But what can we do when the threat is not only invisible, but at our front doors? As of today, there are over 100 possible or confirmed cases of coronavirus in the contiguous U.S. If the recent events in China are any indication, Covid-19 has the potential to spread rapidly to every city and state across America. Will it be in your neighborhood? No one—not even the experts—can accurately predict the virus’s future behavior. But what parents can do now is try to help kids continue to feel safe and protected as much as possible.

Kids Need Security

Everyone would like to feel secure, but children actually need security in order to develop into emotionally healthy adults. Studies show that children who experienced trauma in childhood are more likely to have emotional difficulties as adults. Specifically, natural disasters and global events like terrorist attacks or, in this case, the coronavirus outbreak, can leave children feeling less competent and less confident all the way into adulthood. This can obviously impact everything from their own self-esteem to how they interact with romantic partners, to their success—or lack of it—in their careers. As you can see, it’s imperative to directly address kids’ feelings of vulnerability during this global health crisis.

Don’t Think They Don’t Know

Kids are more observant than we might realize sometimes. And even if you’ve taken measures in your own home to shield your kids from the news about coronavirus, you can bet money that they’re getting their news from the playground, from friends and even from the online games they play. Seemingly innocuous games like Minecraft, Roblox and Runescape have chat boxes where kids chatter as they play, and it’s not confined to game strategy. Kids share anecdotes and news stories they’ve seen or read. These days, coronavirus is a hot topic.

Remember too that, for most youngsters, it doesn’t matter whether the information came from someone who knows someone who knows someone, or whether it came from a legitimate news outlet; it’s all legitimate in their eyes. Kids have trouble discerning real news from fake news, according to a Stanford University study.

So, while your kids almost undoubtedly know that something bad is happening, they most likely have been fed a steady diet of a mix of truth and hyperbolic fabrication. That’s where you can step in to help.

1. Don’t Add to the Fabrication

One thing that can help your child feel more secure in these uncertain times is to be their reliable source for accurate information. If they know they can come to you and get the truth, they’ll be less likely to turn or—or believe—other sources.

Kids have a way of knowing when adults aren’t being truthful, so avoid blanket statements like, “It’s just your imagination, there’s nothing going on.” Also avoid discounting their fears in an offhand statement like, “Don’t be silly.” When parents do this, it closes the discussion and makes the child feel like they can’t express their feelings for fear of ridicule. “When a child feels emotionally safe, they are more likely to open up about their feelings and fears,” says Kathleen Scott, a Communications Coaching Consultant in South Carolina. “When they begin to express their fears, you need to manage your reaction so that they feel comfortable continuing to share their feelings.”

Next, be as truthful as you can within the context of cementing their feelings of security. Following are more tips for talking to your kids about coronavirus in a constructive way.

2. Acknowledge Their Fears

The next step in any conversation about coronavirus is to acknowledge the child’s fears. This aptly validates the fears for the child so they feel justified in feeling fearful in this situation. Remember that the feeling of fear is nature’s way of warning us of danger. If your child is feeling afraid—whether they vocalize it or not—know that it’s a natural reaction that you should validate. To do this, says Scott, “Name the fear and give them assurance that their fears are okay. For example, you could say, “It sounds like you’re afraid that something bad might happen to me or to you. Tell me why you feel that way.” This invites your child to keep talking about their feelings and it’s an opportunity for you to find out what they are thinking and feeling.

3. Keep Their Emotional Age in Mind

You already know that kids mature at different ages. Some kids act like 8-year-olds when they are just 5-years-old, while some 17-year-olds are still working through some preteen issues. Keep your child’s emotional age in mind when discussing coronavirus. Your 5-year-old is probably not ready to hear about many of the things that transpired in China, and your 13-year-old may not appreciate you sugar coating the reason why the spare bedroom has been turned into an extra pantry. You can tell the truth without mentioning about every single little gory detail. Especially with younger children, a vague discussion will probably satisfy them.

Older children may be able to handle some of the more serious sides of the outbreak. In this case, let your child kind of guide the discussion. If they ask, experts advise answering as factually as you can without being dramatic. If they don’t ask about certain things, then there’s probably no need to go into it unless it involves how to stay safe.

4. Be Patient With Continuing Questions Over the Days

Also, realize that one conversation may not be enough. Children are likely to walk away saying they feel better, mull things over while they are falling asleep and then approach you again about it in the morning. Just keep repeating what you told them the first time and try to be patient about repetitive questions. Remember, your goal is to be the person they can come to with their fears and questions without judgment.

5. Don’t Hide Your Preparations

Experts have advised households to prepare for serious disruptions to daily life. While we certainly hope that we don’t experience quarantined cities like in China, it’s not out of the realm of possibilities that households may have limited mobility. For these reasons, you should follow experts’ advice and prepare as you see fit.

This may involve shopping for extra groceries and household goods, stocking up on prescription medications or even planning an extended leave of absence from work. For the sake of transparency and fortifying feelings of security in your children, don’t try to hide your preparatory activities from them.

Instead, consider involving your kids in the preparations. This can enhance their feelings of control and safety at a time when they may feel like things are spiraling out of control. Talk about what items you need to buy, and why. Explain why it’s better to buy canned or dried goods for storage than fresh foods. Again, this helps kids through education and involvement.

Above all, remember that talking to your kids about coronavirus will ultimately make them feel more secure. The sooner you can arrange your chat, the better, because you will be giving your child a virtual anchor in the tempest. When children realize that parents are willing to talk about what’s happening with them, they will feel like they aren’t alone in dealing with whatever is happening in the world.

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