Kids are hearing about the coronavirus disease at school, among their friends and listening in on their parents’ conversations. You might be noticing their fear, confusion and anxiety about it, so this article is intended to help you feel prepared to talk to your kids.
Before starting a conversation, make sure you have an understanding of the virus. You’ll want to be able to answer their questions with the most current information (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus). Next, keep in mind that kids look to their parents’ reactions to see how they should feel and act. So, while in their presence it’s important to maintain a calm and confident demeanor. Express your worries and concerns to adults, when your kids are out of earshot. And no matter how intelligent and mature your teenager is, don’t use them to process your fears and concerns. Reach out to adult friends, family, clergy or a counselor.
To start the conversation, ask your child what they’ve heard about the virus. If your child is willing
to talk, use this as an opportunity to clear up misinformation. Talk about what’s known and do it at a level they can understand and tolerate. Honest answers provide the most comfort (a child can tell when you’re beating around the bush or bending the truth). Keep in mind, however, that when kids are scared, they may be reluctant to talk about what’s upsetting them. Encourage your child to talk about their feelings, letting them know their feelings are normal and being sure never to tell them not to feel that way. If they don’t share, know you can always help by addressing worry about their safety and yours. Kids want to believe everyone will be OK, so you can reassure them daily that you, their teachers, the adults in the family and many other adults (such as doctors) are working to keep everyone safe and healthy.
Middle school-aged kids and teens most likely will be interested in learning about what will happen in the future. Stick to the facts and don’t burden them with your own worries. Teens might have questions about health, the economy and public policy. It’s important to discuss these topics with them if they are interested, answering their questions at a level they can understand. Some kids/teens may want to block out the whole thing, appearing like they don’t care. Other kids might make jokes about the situation in an
attempt to cope. While humor can be helpful, discourage the use of humor as the only way to talk about the virus. Ask questions about what they really think and feel and be ready to listen — but don’t push.
Helping your child talk about their feelings is a great way to assist them with managing their fears. Follow this up with helping them create a plan to stay healthy. Creating a plan and maintaining routines will increase your child’s sense of safety and give them a sense of control. Guide your child’s worry into things they can do — like learning more about prevention, such as frequent handwashing, getting lots of sleep and maintaining normal routines (especially if your child’s school is shut down). For young kids, make handwashing fun with songs. You can find Baby Shark handwashing songs on YouTube. Look for non-verbal signs your child might not be coping well and is in need of extra patience. Common behaviors and feelings among kids in distress include:
• Increased crying, irritability and acting out behavior
• Young kids returning to earlier behaviors they had outgrown (e.g., toileting accidents or bedwetting)
• Anxiety, worry and sadness
• Unhealthy changes in eating or sleeping habits
• Falling grades
• Teens avoiding school or certain classes
• Difficulty with attention and concentration
• A sudden lack of interest in activities they used to enjoy
• Unexplained headaches or body pain
• Using of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs
Here are things you can do to support yourself, in order to stay strong for your kids:
• Make time for yourself to do something fun or relaxing
• Remind yourself that strong feelings will fade
• Take breaks from watching, reading or listening to news stories about the virus
• Stay connected with friends and family
• Share your concerns and how you’re feeling with a friend or family member
• Maintain a sense of hope and positive thinking
• Get help if you are struggling with your coping skills
Remember, you’re always teaching your kids (because they are always watching you). Rolemodel for them the importance of good self-care (i.e., eating healthy, exercising and getting plenty of sleep). For more information on how to talk with your kids, or to help manage your own worries, contact Psychological Services Bureau at (213) 738-3500. Services are free and confidential.