While everyone continues to adjust to the “new normal” of living in a world with COVID-19, most parents were reminded – or learned for the first time – just how much kids can be impacted by a change in routine. Children who have a chronic condition or are considered medically vulnerable may experience heightened fear or uncertainty, which can manifest itself in unique ways. Here are some tips for talking about COVID-19 with children who may be trying to understand and cope.
Ask and listen.
It’s important to ask kids how they feel, and what they have heard or know about COVID-19. Older children especially may be receiving information from friends or the media that they may find confusing and alarming. It’s important that parents ask, listen, and respond appropriately. Let your kids know that their feelings are okay and normal, and share your own feelings to set an example of how to constructively talk about emotions such as worry and uncertainty.
Consider each child’s age.
When talking about stressful topics, consider your child’s emotional maturity. Be honest, but explain using words they will understand. For teenagers, this discussion will likely look and sound much different than a conversation with a seven- or eight-year-old.
Be intentional about what information you share, and remember that often for kids, receiving more information than what’s been asked for can be overwhelming. It’s recommended that you give children time to process what you’ve discussed, and even set a time to follow up and answer any questions they may have.
Look to uplift.
While tremendous efforts are being made to share good news in mainstream media, a lot of the news that makes headlines may seem scary, sad, and confusing for kids. We can take the advice of our favorite neighbor, Mr. Rogers, and “look for the helpers”: clarify and reinforce just how much has been done, and how many people are working hard, to make sure you and your child are safe.
For example, if you and your child are going to the doctor, remind your child that you are following the rules about how to stay safe. You can even include them when reading about the office’s new protocols or when calling to confirm the appointment, asking appropriate clarifying questions to put your child’s mind at ease. This can help them feel more in control of the situation by being able to follow the rules to stay safe.
Take care of yourself.
As a caregiver to children, it can be hard to stay positive in such uncertain times. But you have an important job. Use the resources available to you, and talk openly with your support network about your needs. Other parents and guardians are likely struggling with the same challenges, and they may be able to provide support or suggestions. Your child’s teachers and doctors may have suggestions or direct support that’s more specific to the needs of you and your family.
You might find the following resources helpful in talking to your child about COVID-19.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided these tips for talking with children about the coronavirus.
- Sesame Street developed an initiative called “Caring for Each Other,” including content that can support conversations with young children trying to understand COVID-19. The initiative also offers videos, activities, and this talking guide.
- Lockdown Diary provides older children with a way to get their feelings on paper. Consider filling one out too, and use it as a way to discuss COVID-19 with older children.
- The Child Mind Institute has COVID-19 resources for parents on everything from helping manage your child’s anxiety and supporting changes in a child’s behavior, to dealing with loss.
- Browse these additional resources (compiled on Facebook) of books, coloring pages, and tips.
We hope that you continue to stay healthy and safe.