If you’ve turned on the news, listened to the radio or been on social media in recent weeks then you’ve heard about the Coronavirus.
Not only is it everywhere you look, but you might be getting conflicting information about COVID-19.
Some people say that there’s nothing to worry about, while others say we should prepare for a pandemic. You might see people wearing facemasks or have noticed that your local store is out of hand sanitizer and other supplies. You might have heard that your local government is preparing for an emergency while at the same time people on Facebook are posting that the flu is more dangerous.
There’s so much conflicting information about the Coronavirus that it can be scary and overwhelming, right?
And if you’re feeling that way then your kids might be feeling afraid and confused too.
Are you wondering how to talk to your kids about the Coronavirus?
Disease control and prevention aren’t normal topics of conversation with kids. Sure, there are plenty of resources that teach kids how to wash their hands, but there aren’t many resources on how to help kids deal with their fear or loss of safety.
As a parent or teacher you probably want to shield your children from worry or heartache. Unfortunately, we can’t protect our kids from every fear or dangerous situation, but we can protect them from the pitfalls of avoiding emotional pain and grief.
Grief is the normal and natural emotional reaction to loss or change of any kind. That includes a loss of safety, or the fear of a loss of safety. Even if COVID-19 isn’t impacting you personally we are all affected by what we see in our communities.
Health scares like COVID19, make us realize how little control we have in our outward environments. But we can control how we talk and listen to our kids.
So what can you say to kids who are afraid of the Coronavirus?
First of all, please know that there is no clear set of guidelines for all children. Kids have different levels of maturity and awareness based on their ages and personalities. That means you have to meet the child where they are.
The most crucial things are:
Tell the truth about yourself. Don’t hide your feelings.
Go first. When you go first you make it safe for your kids to talk honestly too.
In our book, When Children Grieve, we talk about the most important element about children and grief is not the age or size of the child, but the knowledge and honesty of the parents and other guardians.
The bottom line is this: If you’re afraid your kids know it.
Non verbal communication makes up as much as 80% of our communication. If you say one thing, but your body language and tone of voice say something totally different, it’s confusing. It teaches kids that they shouldn’t be honest about their own feelings. They subconsciously wonder why they should tell the truth when the adults aren’t.
We all need a safe place to talk about our feelings and if you go first it makes it safe for your child to follow suit.
So what exactly do you say to your kids?
You could try something like,
"I was so scared when I heard [or saw] about what had happened. I was worried for our safety and then I was so very sad about the people and the families who are directly affected."
Here are some more do’s and don’ts about talking to your children about the Coronavirus
Tell the truth about how you feel. It will make it safe for your child to do the same.
Recognize that grief is emotional, not intellectual. Feeling sad or scared are normal and natural.
Remember that every child has a unique perception about what they hear and believe about Coronavirus disease 2019.
Explain your beliefs about COVID-19 clearly and openly to your children.
Be Patient. Give your child time to form their own opinions.
Listen with your heart, not your head. Allow kids to share their emotions without judgment or criticism.
Don’t say "Don't feel scared." Fear is a normal and common response to scary situations.
Don’t say "Don't feel sad." Sadness is a healthy and normal reaction to the possibility of someone they know getting sick.
Don’t act strong for your children. It gives them the message that they have to be strong too, which means they will hide their normal and natural feelings.
Don’t compare their lives or situations to others in the world. Comparison minimizes their feelings.
Don’t make promises that you cannot keep. Instead of saying "Everything's going to be okay," say, "We'll do everything we can to be safe."
Remember, kids are smart. They see and hear more than we think they do. Treat their feelings with the same respect and dignity that you want to receive.
Next week we’ll talk more about what you can do to honor your loss of safety around the Coronavirus Disease 2019 and how you can be there for your friends.
In the meantime, here are some resources for helping children who experience grief (including loss of safety). Our first recommendation is getting a copy of When Children Grieve ASAP.