By Rosalind Sedacca, CDC
Talking to your kids about the Coronavirus is certainly one of the most difficult conversations you’ll ever have. Equally significant, it’s a topic that you’ll likely be addressing for some time to come.
Stop and think about it. We’re expecting our children to cope with circumstances beyond their control. Chances are it’s also beyond their scope of comprehension. As a result, your kids are looking to you not only for comfort, but also for answers to help make sense of a new normal that’s different from the life they’ve always known.
This is also the time for co-parent conversations, as well. Discuss your child’s mental and emotional well-being. Use consistent messages to reassure your kids that you are both there for them throughout this stressful period – even if only one parent is physically nearby.
Here are some thoughts to keep in mind as you try to ease each child’s anxiety and confusion.
1. Remember, we’re all in this together!
No one one alive on the planet has ever experienced anything quite like this before. That means we’re all in this together. It’s comforting for your kids to know that every child around the world has had their lives and schedules changed by the virus. And they all have similar questions. When will this end? Will I go back to a normal routine in school soon? Why are my parents not at work? Why can’t I go out to play with my friends? They also have similar fears. What if one of my parents gets sick? Will grandma be all right? Will daddy get his job back? Will I still go to camp this summer? What about my SATs? What if we run out of food?
This is the time for reassurance. Explain that answers will be coming and those in charge are making the best decisions for us all. Acknowledge the validity of their concerns. Remind them, too, that this is not only happening to them. “You’re not alone. So try to relax and find worthwhile ways to spend your time each day!”
2. Keep your answers succinct and simple!
As a parent you know the importance of talking to your children in an age-appropriate manner. So you may want to take each child aside and have a different conversation if their ages vary. It’s especially important that you not say more than they require. Often we scare our kids by overwhelming them with details or explanations beyond what they need or can absorb. You’ll be having many discussions in the weeks ahead. Answer questions as simply and clearly as possible. Then ask your kids some questions about how they will use this information. Get them thinking about their options and plans for tomorrow. Take things one day at a time.
3. Empower your child to conquer fear!
Fear can consume a child with anxiety, dread, anger and depression. That’s why we want to talk to our kids about identifying and acknowledging their fear. Once they do, they can take steps to let it go and replace fear with other thoughts and action. For young kids you can create a “Coronavirus spray” to use in their room before they go to bed. You can read books on fear to help them feel more brave. Parenting expert Jean Tracy has helpful advice that engages your child in drawing pictures of their fear followed by pictures of how they want to feel instead.
With older children you can talk about fear being a state of mind. Remind them we have a choice in what we think about and what we do with our time. Let’s create a positive mind-set and recognize the positive aspects of life as we know it now. Are you getting more video, TV or tablet time than before? Are you enjoying spending more time with mom or dad at home? Are you playing more with your pets? Are you less stressed about tests and homework? Is life simpler than it used to be?
4. Step up to new opportunities!
There are opportunities all around us for new experiences and adventures. Online learning programs abound. Interested in starting a new hobby? Now’s the time to learn more about it. Want to practice a sport, get more fit, learn an instrument, begin painting, dancing or a new craft? Check out all the online programs and courses available. Educational resources as well as private industries are offering how-to videos for children of all ages. Encourage your child to test the waters and have a Facetime call with friends or family to show what they’re doing and learning. Use this special time as the chance to explore talents and test skills they’ve never tried before. It’s like an unexpected vacation from your normal routine. Here’s your child’s chance to step up, break out and get free from past insecurities or self-imposed limitations.
As a parent you’re there to spark ideas, initiate conversation, and support new activities despite Covid-19. This time of physical restriction doesn’t have to be a time of mental or spiritual restriction for your kids. You can help them discover some of the blessings hidden in our circumstances. They may even thank you!
Don’t lie, mislead or disappoint, but do focus on the positives in your new version of family life. Encourage conversation, especially with their other parent. Be understanding about mood swings. And remind your kids that this too will pass. Life will go on. And there will be brighter days ahead.
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Rosalind Sedacca, CDC
The Voice of Child-Centered Divorce
Author: How Do I Tell the Kids about the Divorce?
Founder, Child-Centered Divorce Network
Host: Divorce, Dating & Empowered Living Radio Show & Podcast
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