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How to talk to children about Covid-19

24 March 2020
Covid-19: It’s been a wild ride so far. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? Our anxiety is at an all-time high. Our routine is non-existent. Our ability to stay patient with our kids is difficult (if not impossible). While it would be easier to just sweep all of this under the rug, it’s important to talk to our children about the disease and the ripple effect it’s made on their day to day life.
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What to say when you don’t know what to say

Unfortunately, there is no clear-cut, 5-step process for having conversations about difficult topics.
Your family is unique. Your current situation is unique. If you’ve talked with your children about other difficult topics, this may not seem like such a monumental task, but if you’re new to discussing serious issues, you may feel a little more unsure.
Plus, each child is unique. Some children are more mature for their age, while others seem to grow up slowly. The way you talk to a 3-year-old will be different than how you talk to a 10-year-old.
Flexibility is key. Take a deep breath. Take your child, your family, and your own thoughts and beliefs into account as you dive into a conversation.
It’s ok if your first attempt is a little unpolished. Expect a few extra “um’s” and long pauses. Be prepared to encounter some uncomfortable responses, but also be ready for some blank stares and indifference.
The important thing is you’ve opened up the conversation. You’ve made the first step.
A sample script for talking about Covid-19
Keep it simple – Again, depending on your child, they may not need to know every single detail about COVID-19. Rather than saying too much, focus on the basic information. “There is a germ going around that is making some people very sick. To keep everyone healthy, we’re going to stay home and away from friends for a few days.”
Reiterate truth – Don’t make promises you can’t keep (such as “You’ll be fine.”) or instill fear by raising unnecessary alarm (“We don’t have enough food!”) Instead, be as honest as you can with the information you have. “We’re washing our hands with soap for 20-seconds to stay as healthy as possible.” or “Your favorite crackers were out at the store, I know that’s a bummer. We’ll try these crackers until they get more in stock.”
You’re not the expert – It’s OK not to know everything or have the answers to every question. This is uncharted territory for us! Deffer to the experts, if that seems appropriate, or let a question stay unanswered. “That is a great question, let’s see what the CDC says about that.” or “I don’t know if your soccer games will be rescheduled. I am waiting to hear from your coach and I will let you know as soon as I hear from him.”
Identify an emotion – While some children may display their emotions clearly, others may be a little harder to decipher. Silence, angry outbursts, an increase in anxious behaviors, or resistance to talk may all be signs of unsettling emotions inside. Do your best to put these emotions into words: “You seem upset that you can’t see your friends.” or “It’s ok to be confused, this is a really confusing time.”
Follow-up – Some kids take a while to digest information, some ask a million questions, and others may not seem phased at all. Regardless, leave the conversation open-ended: “Do you have any questions?” or “It looks like you have some questions.” And end with: “If you ever have any other questions or want to talk more about this, I’m always ready to listen.”
Things to keep in mind
  • Regardless of your child’s age, it is important to reassure them that they are seen, safe and loved. If you’re stumped for a response, focus on these three areas. You can’t guarantee they will stay safe and healthy, but you can help your children feel safe by being a calm and confident parent in these uncertain times.
  • You do not have to hide your own emotions. If you are feeling stir-crazy at home, it’s ok to say, “I’m feeling a little cabin fever today.” If you think that your child may be worried or upset by your feelings, you can set a good example by saying, “Everybody feels this way sometimes. We all have lots of feelings. Feelings come and go.”
  • But remember, your children rely on you, you do not rely on them. Find another adult, a friend or a support group to help you process the big, overwhelming, and difficult emotions.
You are not alone!
We are all trying to navigate this unusual situation. We’re all trying to parent the best we can with the ever-changing information around us.
You don’t have to do or say the perfect thing at the perfect time.
You do not need to have all the answers.
You simply need to start the conversation. Be willing to listen. And do the best you can to be the strong center your children need.
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You’ll find more suggestions, tips and advice from some of the world’s leading parenting experts in the Family5 app.
About the author
Nicole is an experienced parent coach with a Masters and a License in Family Therapy. She is based in Missouri, U.S.A.
This post originally appeared in Imperfect Families on 20 March 2020