Below are a few tips for talking with your children about coronavirus to help them with their anxieties.
• Don’t be afraid to discuss the coronavirus. Most children will have already heard about the virus or seen people wearing face masks, so parents shouldn’t avoid talking about it. Not talking about something can actually make children worry more. Look at the conversation as an opportunity to give the facts and set the emotional tone. “As the parent, you get the facts and lter the news to your children. Your goal is to help your children feel informed and get fact-based information that is likely more reassuring than whatever they’re hearing from their friends, social media or on the news.
• Be developmentally appropriate. Don’t volunteer too much information, as this may be overwhelming. Instead, try to answer your child’s questions. Do your best to answer honestly and clearly. It’s okay if you can’t answer everything; being available to your child is what matters.
• Take your cues from your child. Ask your child to tell you anything they may have heard about the coronavirus, and how they feel. Give them ample opportunity to ask questions. You want to be prepared to answer (but not prompt) questions. Your goal is to avoid increasing their anxiety.
• Deal with your own anxiety. If you are feeling most anxious or panicked, this is not the time to talk to your children about what’s happening. If you notice that you are feeling anxious, take some time to calm down before trying to have a conversation or answer your child’s questions.
• Be reassuring. Children are very egocentric, so hearing about the coronavirus on the news may be enough to make them seriously worry that they’ll catch it. It’s helpful to reassure your child about how rare the coronavirus actually is (the flu is much more common) and that kids actually seem to have milder symptoms.
• Focus on what you’re doing to stay safe. An important way to reassure children is to emphasize the safety precautions that you are taking. Children feel empowered when they know what to do to keep themselves safe. We know that the coronavirus is transmitted mostly by coughing and touching surfaces. The CDC recommends thoroughly washing your hands as the primary means of staying healthy. So remind kids that they are taking care of themselves by washing their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds (or the length of two “Happy Birthday” songs) when they come in from outside before they eat, and after blowing their nose, coughing, sneezing or using the bathroom. If your children ask about face masks, explain that the experts at the CDC say they aren’t necessary for most people. If your children see people wearing face masks, explain that those people are being extra cautious.
• Stick to routine. Children and adults don’t like uncertainty, so sticking with routines and predictability is going to be helpful right now. This is particularly important with school closures. Make sure you are taking care of the basics just like you would during a spring break or summer vacation while practicing social distancing. Structured days at home by having scheduled blocks of time for learning, exercise/movement, mindfulness, fun, relaxation, connecting and scheduled mealtimes and bedtimes are an essential part of keeping children happy and healthy. Limit your children’s exposure to social media, the news and screen time.
• Keep talking. Tell your children that you will continue to keep them updated as you learn more. You can tell them ‘Even though we don’t have the answers to everything right now, know that once we know more, we will let you know, too.