As the COVID-19 crisis continues to unfold, many parents and caregivers are wondering how to talk to children about the impacts of the virus in a way that will be reassuring and not make children more worried than they may be already. Here is some advice from the experts at the Child Mind Institute.
- Welcome their questions. With so much up in the air, children are bound to have questions they might not be asking. They might range from the very serious (“Will Grandma be okay?”) to the seemingly silly (“Will my favorite ice cream parlor still be there?”). Encourage them to ask and, whatever the question, try to take their concerns seriously. Your goal is to help children be heard and get fact-based information that is likely more reassuring than whatever they’re hearing from their friends or on the news.
- Don’t avoid questions you can’t answer. Given how much uncertainty there is, try to be comfortable saying “I don’t know.” It’s tempting to want to reassure the child that things will be better soon, even when you aren’t sure yourself. But teaching children how to tolerate uncertainty is key to reducing anxiety and helping them build resilience.
- Set the tone. Look at these conversations as an opportunity not just to convey the facts but set the emotional tone.
- Be developmentally appropriate. Don’t volunteer too much information, as this may be overwhelming. Instead, try to answer questions honestly and clearly. It’s okay if you can’t answer everything; being available is what matters.
- Take your cues from the child. Invite them to tell you anything they may have heard about the coronavirus, and how they feel. Give them ample opportunity to ask questions. You want to be prepared to answer (but not prompt) questions.
- Deal with your own anxiety. When you’re feeling most anxious or panicked, that isn’t the time to talk to children about what’s happening with the coronavirus. If you’ve just learned news that’s upsetting, or that you worry will upsetting, take some time to calm down before trying to have a conversation or answer questions.
- Focus on what you’re doing to stay safe. An important way to reassure kids is to emphasize the safety precautions that you, and others around you, are taking. Children feel empowered when they know what to do to keep themselves safe.” Remind children that washing their hands is actually helping everyone by stopping the spread of the virus. Involve them in our ECS family’s ongoing safety plan. Like wearing mask and washing our hands.
- Keep talking. Tell kids that you will continue to keep them updated as you learn more.