If you are a parent or caregiver and feel unsure about what topics to discuss or how much to share with children amid the uncertainty of COVID-19, you’re not alone. We asked Sandy Potter, a licensed clinical social worker and Vice President and Chief Operations Officer of Behavioral Health at Texas Health Resources, to provide tips on how to navigate these unprecedented times with your young ones.
Helping Your Kids Understand What’s Going On
While current data suggests that children seem to be at a lower-risk for contracting COVID-19 or developing life-threatening symptoms, they’re not immune from the anxiety and confusion that surrounds this novel virus.
“It’s very important to include your children in your family’s plan for managing this crisis,” Potter says. “This will lead to a better understanding; it’ll counter all the fears and anxieties of the unknown. We need to help children and adolescents have a sense of control during times like this.” This includes watching your words, tone and staying calm. Reassure your children and yourself that this is temporary and everyone is going to be alright.
Lead a Healthy Discussion
It’s natural for children to be full of questions about what’s going on around them, but during these uncertain times, their questions may leave you scrambling for age-appropriate answers. Potter says starting a healthy dialogue with them about what they know and fielding any questions they may have is a good place to start.
“We need to ask them what they’ve heard — that’s a good way to start the conversation,” she says. “We should be asking our kids every day what they’ve heard, what they’re worried about, and encourage them to share their concerns.”
Children need simple, honest answers. Depending on the age of your child, you may describe the virus as a type of germ. Reiterate that these germs are very tiny, and when they get inside your body, they can make you sick. This is a good way to also include the importance of washing hands and covering coughs and sneezes, since that’s how the pesky germs get into the body. This can also help you explain why their school is closed and why it’s best to avoid large crowds right now.
A rule of thumb that Potter suggests is letting them lead the discussion. Too much information can create more anxiety, so only answer what they ask, and use kind language that doesn’t place blame on races, animals or cultures.
If you’re looking for specific words to use, BrainPOP has a great kid-friendly video discussing the topic.
Explain & Empower
Since children and young adults seem to be better off against coronavirus than older individuals, explaining the need for social distancing and enhanced cleanliness can quell fear and empower children to be superheroes for their more susceptible friends and family members.
“They have both been told that a lot of people are getting sick and even though it might not hurt us badly, we could accidentally share our germs with people that could be hurt badly so it’s our job to stay to ourselves for a little while,” says Candice, a Frisco mother of two young children.
Let them know that they can help keep their friends, neighbors and loved ones safe and healthy by frequently washing their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. You can make a game out of it as well. Singing “Happy Birthday” twice in a row, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” or “Baby Shark” (from the beginning to where the “Daddy Shark” lyrics start) will help them learn proper timing.
For parents and caregivers, it’s important to focus on the positive and try to see the silver lining of the new normal. Slow down, play games, read books, snuggle, cook together, teach valuable life skills — think of it as an opportunity to do all the things you’ve always wished you had more time to do with your family.