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Discussing Coronavirus with Children: Keep It Simple, Be Honest, and Set the Emotional Tone

Discussing Coronavirus with Children: Keep It Simple, Be Honest, and Set the Emotional Tone

By: Joe Wegmann, PD, LCSW
The PharmaTherapist™
Consultant | Professional Speaker | Author
Superior Mental Health Treatment Strategies for Healthcare Professionals

 

I sincerely hope that all of you are staying safe during this unprecedented set of circumstances.
{In recent weeks, I have received numerous requests about how to best discuss the Corona issue with children. This will be my final newsletter addressing this virus, back to regular clinical Psychopharmacology and other mental health issues next month}.

In spite of wall-to-wall daily coverage of this virus and its impact, little media attention has been devoted to helping children navigate this – outside of a few print articles here and there. Parents – and you may be among them – are concerned about how to bring up this pandemic with their kids without stoking fear and additional worry. Here are my suggestions:

1. Don’t avoid having a discussion. Even young children notice that certain things are different – people wearing face coverings and keeping a distance from one another. Kids are observant, and many are savvy enough to notice when adults aren’t being honest. They’re also adept at sniffing out parental anxiety and hesitancy to discuss sensitive topics, so avoiding such discussions can direct children to worry more. View a “Corona” conversation as an opportunity to convey facts simply and honestly, while setting a calm emotional tone. Your goal is to provide your children fact-based information that is objective and reassuring, as opposed to what they may be getting from their more panicked friends or fearmongering media outlets.

2. Your calm begets their calm. If you’re feeling panicked, stressed or uncertain about this current course of events, talking to your kids about what’s happening wouldn’t be in their best interest, because it would amplify their anxiety, directing them to focus on what they can’t control. So if you’re having a hard time demonstrating a calm demeanor, take steps to engage in some self-soothing. Consider talking a nature walk while silencing your phone and putting away your earbuds. Listen to the birds chirping, watch the squirrels scurrying, and marvel at what’s in bloom. Practice mindfulness in ways that work best for you. Then tackle having a talk with your kids.

3. Tell them what they need to know, not everything you know. Don’t talk too much, don’t over-explain, because more is not more when it comes to framing difficult circumstances with children. Instead, invite them to ask questions and provide ample opportunity for them to do so. Beware of outright dismissal as it could indicate that you’re not interested in their thoughts and feelings or that you’re ill-equipped to handle their concerns. Answer honestly and straightforwardly, but don’t prompt questions that stray from what’s most relevant and important, as doing so could give rise to alarming fantasies. This is not a time for more monsters under the bed.

4. Be encouraging. Children naturally focus on themselves, so hearing news about this virus and how it spreads can be enough to have them thinking they’ll be next to catch it. Encourage them to think differently by telling them because they’re young, they would have milder symptoms, if any at all. (More likely the case).

5. Reinforce what you’re doing as a family to stay safe. When kids know specifically what to do to keep themselves as safe as possible from this virus, they’ll feel more empowered and self-assured. Remind them that every time they wash their hands and avoid touching their face, they are investing in responsible self-care.

6. Maintain a routine. Most daycare facilities and schools are shut down for now, so to reduce uncertainty and chaos, it’s important to make sure you’ve got routines in place similar to what you’d have during school breaks or summer vacation. Structured days with regularly scheduled mealtimes and bedtimes send the message that it’s business as usual in the household.

The very best to all of you and your families as we begin to emerge from these trying and difficult times.

JOE